Choosing a Dentist

What is a dentist?

Dentists are healthcare professionals trained to help you care for your teeth, gums, and all of the soft tissues of your mouth. They have had several years of training in dental medicine. A dentist has 1 of 2 possible degrees: a DDS (doctor of dental surgery) or DMD (doctor of dental medicine) degree. There is no difference between the 2 degrees. The degree a dentist has depends on the school he or she attended.

How do I start my search for a dentist?

Here are a few tips on finding a good dentist:

  • Ask family, friends, or a coworker for recommendations.
  • Ask your family doctor or local pharmacist.
  • Call or write the local dental society to see if they provide referrals.
  • Ask faculty members of local dental schools.
  • If you are moving, ask your current dentist for recommendations.
  • If you have dental insurance, ask for a list of dental providers on your plan.

If you are looking for charitable or low-cost dental care, check with your state dental society to see if there are community health centers, assistance programs, or a dental school clinic in your area. Dental schools often have clinics that allow dental students to gain experience treating patients while providing very good care for a lower cost. Experienced, licensed dentists closely supervise the students. You can also contact your state or local health department to find out what services are offered in your area.

What should I check?

Look for a dentist in a location easy for you to get to, either from home or from work. Call the dentist's office and ask if they are taking new patients. Ask about office hours and appointments, payment policy, and insurance coverage. When you visit the office, check for neatness and cleanliness.

You and your dentist are partners in maintaining your oral health. Take the time to ask questions.

  • Ask how long the dentist has been in practice in the community.
  • Find out how dental emergencies are handled.
  • Ask how you will be told about fees and payment before treatments.
  • If you are comparing the fees charged by different dentists, ask what the cost is for X-rays and a preventive dental visit that includes an oral exam and teeth cleaning.
  • If you know others who have seen this dentist, ask them if the dentist is easy to talk to. Does the dentist take time to explain treatment choices and teach ways to prevent dental health problems?

For more information, contact the American Dental Association at 1-800-621-8099, or visit their Web site at

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2012.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-02-10
Last reviewed: 2009-02-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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