10 Questions to Ask Your Dentist: Orange County Has a Lot to Choose From – Here’s how to pick wisely
Where do I start?
Looking for a dentist in Orange County, CA? You have a lot of choices to make. Thankfully, we can help you ask the right questions. It’s a daunting task, but if you can define what is most important to you – things get a lot easier.
First Things First
Why are dentists so different from each other? Let’s start with the fact that dentists are blessed to be able to practice in a great variety of ways. Some of us are in group practice, some of us are in solo practice, corporate dental offices are on the rise, as are hospital dental programs. We can choose to limit our practice to restorative dentistry only, or incorporate services like surgery, orthodontics, implants or root canals. Some offices do very well with dentistry for kids, and others prefer to handle difficult cases like TMJ problems.
Dentistry today is so different than it was even 20 years ago. Materials have changed, techniques have changed, technology has brought digital X-rays and electric hand-pieces, laser dentistry and single visit crowns. You may have basic needs, like cleanings and decay prevention or suffer from headaches and joint problems. You need a dentist that is going to be able to serve you and your family well, and be confident that you are in the right place. With so many things to consider, let’s get to some questions that will help you find the best dentist in Orange County for you and your family – or anywhere for that matter.
 How do I become a patient of your practice?
I chose this question to start with because I see 2 main concepts in offices throughout the US. Unless you are in pain you will either come in for a cleaning first, or you have an exam with the doctor first. The first group assumes that most people are healthy, and lead busy lives. They will schedule a cleaning first on that assumption as to not waste any time. The second group of dentists prefer to get to know you first. A doctor-patient interview is followed by a complete and thorough exam and X-rays. After the exam, the doctor is able to make a diagnosis, evaluate your individual risks, and recommend treatment based not on convenience but on your individual situation. Many times it is a simple cleaning, but when more treatment is indicated, it is nice not to have wasted time and money doing something ineffective or unnecessary.
 How often do I need X-rays?
All too often the answer to this question is driven by dental insurance. “Your insurance will cover X-rays once a year,” they will say, and I suggest following up with asking how an insurance company has an idea about your individual risk for developing cavities. I’m not suggesting that every 12 months is too frequent by any means. Depending on the level of risk, some people benefit from more frequent X-rays, and others don’t require them but every 18 months. This is a good question to ask because the answer will reveal the mentality of the practice. Are they trying to do what’s best for you, or letting your dental insurance run the show?
 Where did you do most of your training after dental school?
By law, dentists are required to maintain a certain number of continuing education credits per year. We tend to take classes in the areas we are interested and excel in. If you have a need for an implant, don’t hesitate to ask what training the dentist has had, or how many cases a year she does. There’s a big difference in a few cases a year or a few dozen a month. You have the right to know who is treating you, and what their background is. Both Dr. Gregg and I have received our Fellowship in the Academy of General Dentistry – a distinction that less than 2% of dentists in the United States earn. I, personally have earned the largest percentage of my coursework at the Pankey Institute, where Dr. Gregg has taught for the last 20 years. Most of the major continuing education providers for dentists have a progression of courses designed to comprehensively cover one area of dentistry. We both have a strong interest in orthodontics, headaches and TMJ disorders in addition to the routine and complex restorative cases we love. We aren’t afraid to tell you what we excel at, and will certainly tell you where you are best seen by a specialist we trust.
 Could you show me any examples of a case like mine?
This question is great, because it allows you to see some examples of the work you may need. I love showing other cases because it helps me explain some of the processes to my patients in a visual and engaging way. Unless your case is something exceptional, you should be able to see some before and after X-rays or photos [Or even better – BOTH!].
 How can I prevent my condition from getting worse, or happening again?
Dental insurance seems restrictive because IT IS RESTRICTIVE. They can get away with that because most dental problems are preventable. A simple toothbrush and floss can keep your mouth healthy for years and years and years. If you’ve cracked a tooth, and need a crown, who’s to say that you won’t break another tooth? If there was something simple that would prevent another problem, like wearing a guard that protected your teeth from clenching and grinding at night, do you think you’d like to know about it? I would. Even for the most challenging cases, there is a way to lower your risk of future trouble.
 What references could you provide me with?
This is a great question to ask, especially if you are new to the area. I know that most of our patients would be happy to welcome someone to the area. They would be honored to help with not only your choice of dentist, but shopping, doctors, groceries and fine dining, activities throughout Orange County: Mission Viejo, Aliso Viejo, Dana Point, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Beach, Irvine. We would also be happy to provide you the names of many specialists that we work with. They are the ones who deal with our work on a weekly basis, and have seen many of our results.
 Can you give me a written treatment plan?
If you have a need for treatment, it’s valuable to have it written down – in detail. This gives you the opportunity to talk over the treatment with your loved ones, or review it yourself when you have more time. Additionally, if your dental insurance is an important factor in your decision about treatment these written plans offer something concrete to discuss with your insurance carrier.
Please don’t misunderstand a treatment plan as a “speak now or forever hold your peace”. They, often times, change mid-treatment for a variety of reasons. Asking for a plan that is written down also provides for some conversation in the way of options. The wonderful thing about dentistry in today’s world, is that you have options. Those same options can also provide for some major confusion. It is our job as dentists to help you discern for yourself what is best.
 What payment plans do you offer?
Dentistry can get expensive, but it shouldn’t be a financial hardship. Part of the options that I mentioned in the question above can certainly involve staging treatment over months or even years. If you don’t know what your financial options are, it makes it impossible to come to a decision about treatment. Payment plans help to make dentistry affordable, and your dentist or their office team member should be able to help you with navigating those questions.
 Do you have any guarantees?
While nothing in life is ever guaranteed, except taxes and death, it doesn’t hurt to ask about how an office would handle an unsatisfied patient. What happens when there’s a problem? If a dentist rarely has problems with their work, they will likely warranty/guaranty your happiness. If, however, they routinely have complications and are re-doing a lot of their work before they should, odds are they’ll balk at this request.
 What’s your cancelation/waiting policy?
The irony is that I am writing this while waiting for my doctor appointment. I was here 30 minutes early, and he is currently 30 minutes behind. Scratch that, an hour behind… Personally, I feel this is outrageous and insulting. If a dentist manages his/her time well, then this isn’t a regular problem, and they will have a perfectly reasonable answer for you. On the other hand, if you get resistance or worse, think twice about the value of your time.
When you are new to an area, or have other reasons for finding a new dentist, Laguna Niguel and the surrounding areas have lots to choose from. Those choices can be overwhelming, and many people don’t even know where to start. Having questions prepared makes it easy to remember the important questions that you wanted to ask.
Thanks for reading!
Until next time,