Though most dental procedures are painless, some of us just don’t look forward to visiting the dentist. In the worst-case scenario, people are so nervous about going that they avoid dentists completely. However, this is not a smart approach if you want to maintain long-term health. According to the Oral Health Foundation, poor oral health is linked to a variety of chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, systemic inflammation and stroke.

Regular visits to the dentist play a significant role in not only giving you a healthier smile, but in preventing these conditions. So, whether you’re a new resident in the Sarasota area, or are looking to switch to a new dental provider, how can you pick a dentist you will actually enjoy visiting? Here are 10 things to look for.

1. Cutting-edge technology and equipment
Over the last two decades or so, dentistry has benefited from the introduction of many digital technologies that are helping dentists and hygienists provide vastly improved oral care. Good dentists have invested money in the best technology for their practices and patients. This is especially significant for dental X-rays, or radiographs, which are crucial to detecting major oral health issues. Dental radiographs allow dentists to see the results within just a few seconds. Because of this shorter turnaround time, digital X-ray technology can reduce dangerous radiation exposure in patients by as much as 90 percent.

2. Memberships, accreditations and ongoing training
Dentists who have committed to their craft are willing to work to hone and refine their clinical skills beyond what they learned in school. As technology continues to push the dental profession forward, it is essential for dentists and hygienists to remain up-to-date on the latest innovations and new techniques to ensure ideal patient safety and outcomes. A dentist who has joined organizations such as the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry has committed to being a leader in their profession.

3. A welcoming and approachable staff
While you may never reach a point where you get excited about making a dental appointment, you can still form a relationship with everyone who works at your dentist’s office, starting with the front office staff. When you called to make an appointment, was the person who answered the phone friendly and professional? When you got to the office, was it clean and modern? Did your interactions with everyone put you at ease? Does the dentist’s practice have office hours that fit your schedule? Is it easy to get to from your home or workplace?

4. Willingness to meet with you
Remember, when you pick a new dentist, you aren’t just looking for someone who can spot whether or not you have a cavity. Your dentist is an important component of your overall physical health. In other words, you’re looking for a partner who cares about keeping you healthy over the long term. If you’re interested in a dentist, but aren’t sure if you’re ready to commit, ask if you can meet with the dentist and their staff before making your appointment.

Bring a list of questions, such as:

  • How long has this dentist been in practice?
  • Will the dentist explain how to help you prevent dental health problems? Will they demonstrate proper hygiene practices?
  • If you have an after-hours emergency, how would this dental office handle your needs?
  • Does the office work with your insurance? What kind of financing or payment plans do they offer for any procedure that is not covered by insurance?
  • If you have dental anxiety, do they offer any amenities to make your visits more comfortable, such as sedation dentistry?
  • What is their referral process if you happen to need a procedure they do not cover?
  • Will they keep detailed records of your dental history?

Remember, you will be spending both money and time with the dentist you choose, so if you feel uncomfortable with the dentist or their staff, or if they can’t answer your questions to your satisfaction, it might be best to move on.

5. Compassion, honesty and good listening skills
An outstanding dentist was attracted to the field due to a genuine desire to help others. Because dental problems can affect both physical and emotional aspects of a person’s life, dentists need to be sensitive to the problems poor dental health can cause. A dentist with a kind attitude and empathetic approach is someone who has your best interests at heart. In addition, dentists must also be honest and willing to listen to your concerns. If you feel a dentist isn’t trustworthy, it will be nearly impossible for you to trust their judgment and put your oral health in their hands.

6. Good problem-solving skills
Problem-solving skills are an essential trait for a dentist. Sometimes, there are multiple ways to solve a problem, while other times, there is no immediate straightforward solution. A dentist needs to be willing to think critically and put each patient’s unique needs first.

7. The dentist’s focus area
Just like any other area of medicine, dentists can choose to specialize in different practice areas. If you only need regular biannual cleanings and check-ups, you’ll want to look for a general or family dentist. However, if you have concerns about gum disease, you should find a periodontist, and if your teeth are misaligned, you need an orthodontist. If your problems are largely cosmetic in nature, look for a dentist who specializes in cosmetic dentistry.

8. Patient testimonials
These days, people review anything and everything online. Look up reviews and testimonials of your potential dentist – either on their website or on a site such as Yelp. If patients feel strongly enough about their experience – in a highly positive or highly negative way – you’ll be able to get their honest, unfiltered opinion. It’s even better if the dentist is willing to provide a list of patients for you to talk with.

9. Before-and-after photos
If you are only having a tooth filled, you can probably safely skip this step, but if you are planning on having any orthodontia or cosmetic procedures such as whitening, implants, crowns or veneers, ask to see before-and-after photos of patients who underwent the same procedure you are considering getting.

10. Thorough exams
Your dentist needs to look not only at your teeth, but your entire mouth. At your exam, your dentist should compare your current X-rays side-by-side with your most recent X-rays to spot any changes in your teeth. In addition to checking for cavities and other signs of tooth decay, your dentist should look at your gum health, as well as any changes in your bite that might indicate your teeth are at risk for cracking due to stress. An oral cancer screening should also be part of every regular check-up.

Finding a great dentist isn’t impossible. To ensure you get the most from this important facet of your health care, use these 10 tips as your starting point, and you’ll be well on your way to the perfect, even smile you’ve always wanted.