Finding the right dentist shouldn't have to be a hassle. We've outlined the best way to find a dentist who meets your criteria and who can provide the best oral health care. If you currently don't have a dentist, there are plenty of incentives to look for one: good oral care is important for your whole body to be healthy, among other reasons. Of course, price plays a part too, as does the extent to which your dental insurance (opens in new tab) applies with the dentist.
The importance of good dental health
It’s important to take care of your teeth and gums, not only to preserve your smile and ability to chew but also to enjoy good health in general. On its website, the Mayo Clinic states that oral health may contribute to diseases such as endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of the heart, as well as other cardiovascular diseases, including clogged arteries and stroke. For pregnant women, poor dental health has been linked to premature birth and low birthweight.
Besides brushing and flossing, the Mayo Clinic’s experts recommend having a healthy diet, replacing your toothbrush every three to four months, staying away from tobacco and making sure you get regular dental checkups and cleanings. Ultimately, the organization states, “Taking care of your oral health is an investment in your overall health.”
Aside from better physical health, having access to good dental care can make an enormous difference for unemployed people seeking jobs, according to a 2013 NBC News report by senior writer JoNel Aleccia.
People who have dental problems, such as missing, discolored, broken or crooked teeth, have problems when searching for jobs, according to dentist and scientist Susan Hyde.
The report said that in the U.S., most people make "instant judgments" based on appearance, and that includes the way an individual's smile and teeth look.
“If you want to portray someone as being wicked, they have missing front teeth. If they’re ignorant, they have buck teeth,” Hyde said. “Even from a very early age, we associate how one presents their oral health with all kinds of biases that reflect some of the social biases that we have.”
“Those views can prevent employers from recognizing potential assets,” said Lindsey Robinson, a dentist and current president of the California Dental Association. “If they have a job that requires them to interact socially with the public, it’s almost impossible for them to get that job,” she said.
Neglecting to take good care of your mouth and to go to the dentist are associated with various oral health problems. However, bad oral health isn’t the only consequence of failing to care for your teeth. Recent media reports cite a new study that links gum infections to Alzheimer’s disease. The original publication, Science Advances, shows how a kind of bacteria called Porphyromonas gingivalis, which is linked to gum disease, has been identified in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.
Testing on lab mice also showed how gum infections heightened the production of amyloid beta, which is part of the plaque deposits in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s, an incurable disease affecting as many as 5 million Americans.
While some researchers are encouraged by the study’s findings, others caution that no one should jump to any conclusions. More information is needed to prove the correlation. "In research we’ve supported to uncover the key risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, gum disease hasn’t emerged as a major cause for concern," James Pickett, the head of research at Alzheimer’s Society, said in a statement obtained by USA Today. He was not connected with this latest study, however.
Seeing a dentist during pregnancy
Skimping on dental care at any stage in life is a bad idea, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). In an article on its website, the ADA says pregnant women face specific oral health challenges during pregnancy that can safely be taken care of by dentists. For example, pregnant women are more likely to develop gingivitis because of hormonal changes that affect bacteria in gum tissue, cavities from snacking due to food cravings, and tooth enamel erosion from morning sickness and vomiting. In addition, they are more prone to developing a pyogenic granuloma, a growth caused by hormonal changes.
Further, the ADA says several studies have indicated that a pregnant mother’s gum problems, such as periodontitis, can have ill effects on her unborn child. “While findings of individual studies have been mixed, an overview of 23 systematic reviews conducted through 2016 concluded that associations exist between periodontitis and preterm birth, low birthweight babies and the development of pre-eclampsia.”
The ADA recommends that moms-to-be take good care of their teeth and mouths at home and discuss oral health with their obstetricians and dentists. “Regular and emergency dental care, including the use of local anesthetics and radiographs, is safe at any stage during pregnancy.”
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Steps to take to find the right dentist
There are a number of steps you can take to make sure that your picks for your new dentist are right for you.
1. List the factors important to you
While it may not seem like your yearly or twice-yearly trip to the dentist's office happens frequently enough to rule out some perfectly qualified dentists, may people want to find one who works with their schedule. Consider the following:
- Location: is your new dentist's office close to work or home?
- Hours: can you easily schedule an appointment during a time that works for you?
- If you have dental insurance, is the dentist in-network?
- If you have special needs, is the dentist's office offer services to make you appointment more convenient?
2. Start searching
Searching for a dentist can seem daunting, but here are a few good places to start:
- Commercials or advertisements for local dentists
- Friends and family's recommendations
- If you have a physician, he or she may have recommendations
- The ADA's Find-A-Dentist (opens in new tab) tool: you can refine results by name, location, and specialty
- List any specific needs or issues you'd like to address
Once you find a few offices you're interested in, do your research: find patient reviews and visit their websites and social media pages.
3. Schedule a consultation
To really make sure that you're picking the right dentist, you'll want to meet with him or her in person first. Ask for a consultation, and don't forget to bring questions and your dental records, if you have them. You'll also have a better idea if the office suits your needs as listed above - if the location and the office hours are convenient for you. You'll even be able to see if the office is clean and reaches your personal standards. Remember: your dentist isn't just a physician, but a key figure in making sure you're in optimal health. You want someone who will listen to your concerns and work with you to keep you in good health.