My name is Dr Muzzafar Zaman and I am a dentist working in Dagenham, UK. You can contact me on +44 1708 848726. The name of the surgery is GDC which is General Dental Clinica. Its former name was Fresh Smile Dental Clinic situated 3 streets away which was not ideal due to the new one way road restrictions. GDC, (not to be confused with General Dental Council), is situated next door to Carnisseries Salas and is ideally located with free all day parking just behind Mend parts warehouse. I am currently taking on new patients so this is a short guide on how to choose a new dentist or even if you already have a dentist but you are not happy there and want a change.
How to choose a new dentist
Dr Muzzafar Zaman
You are probably reading this because you are looking for a new dentist. This might be for a number of reasons such as having moved away, unhappy with your current dentist, you have not been for a long time or you are no longer “on the books” of where you went last time. Perhaps also you are looking for a second opinion or you have an urgent problem and need to be seen quickly for a dental emergency.
Finding a new dentist is so important because you are choosing someone you trust who will be looking after an important part of your health. After all, ask someone who doesn’t have their own teeth or has teeth missing. He or she will tell you that they cannot chew their food properly and some foods cannot be eaten at all. He or she will feel really conscious to talk or smile in front of people they know and it’s even worse in front of work colleagues or at social occasions. These people really know the value of good dentistry but alas too late. They will tell you to get the best dentistry that you can afford because when your teeth or gums have become damaged, they are damaged for good. You could say that,” Ah yes but my dentist will fix that tooth or even replace it with a fixed screw-in tooth”. The tooth of the matter ( excuse the pun) is that even with all the amazing incredible advanced in materials and technology, fillings or replacement teeth are nowhere near to how nature designed them originally. With gum disease, the situation is even worse because once damage has been done such as gum shrinkage or bone loss, this can never ever be reversed. The only hope you have is to find a dentist who can delay the process and buy you some time. All dental treatment such as crowns, fillings and dentures, will not last forever so you will need to have it replaced again at some point. The trouble is, that when you do have it replaced, it will cost a lot more due to increases in prices, and you will have to sit in the dental chair for another length of time with more injections and drilling. In addition, replacement dental treatment is more complex and there is more potential for complications. Subsequently there is then also more risk that the filling gets even bigger and more chance of problems happening, e.g pain afterwards, sensitivity, needing a root canal and even the possibility of extraction. It therefore makes sense that when you do need to have any treatment done, you want it going so that it does not have to be replaced again for as long as possible. Unfortunately, dental treatment does not last as long as most patients think it will last for. The General Dental Council Board, based in Hampshire used to compile data on how long certain treatments used to last before a dentist had to redo the work and some of the results were quite grim. They do not publish such data now.
At this point, you might be thinking that even if a dentist, who is like a highly qualified surgeon having gone through years of intense study and training can’t repair or replace teeth anywhere near to what nature intended, then I might as well just pick my next dentist from the phone book at random and just hope for the best?
The truth is that, yes, all dentists are the same but at the same time they are “not all the same.”
Yes they are all the same in that they have to have a high set of exam grades, pass the strict University entrance requirements, pass each and every round of their clinical training. But it doesn’t stop there; in fact it is just the start. Once qualified, they must prove that they are capable of working on their own and only to tackle cases that they feel comfortable with. Even when they have experience under their belt, they must carry on going on courses, practical’s and lectures for the rest of their working life. As if that wasn’t enough, they have to have their work analysed and scrutinized at regular intervals. If ever a patient makes a complaint, you will not believe how hard the regulatory bodies will come down even if the dentist had done nothing wrong in the first place.
So, here is my own 10 point insider guide as to how you need to choose a great dentist whose work will last you longer than someone you just choose at random.
- Working hours
- Principal or Associate
- Examples of work
- Good with nervous patients
- Is it well organized?
- Choose at random.
- Trust your instincts as well.
- Finally, the fees
Let us go through each one in turn.
This is probably the most common method and although it sounds simple, it actually isn’t. After all if a family member or a friend says, they are good, then surely you should register there? Conversely if they say, DO NOT GO THERE, ask why? It could be that your friend or relative missed appointments and the surgery do not want them anymore. That is actually a good reason perhaps to, consider this dentist. This is because; this dentist wants to run their practice efficiently and effectively and want to keep costs down. Missed or failed attendances suck the life blood out of a once thriving dental practice.
Another very vital aspect of a recommendation is to ask, what treatment they had done. You want to be recommended to a certain dentist who did the same or similar treatment as to one you are considering. After all you wouldn’t take your expensive and rare sports car to be tuned by a small time local garage that is just good for basic oil changes and simple tasks.
So in a nut shell, recommendations are important but look for other things as well.
This is an important factor because if it is a hassle or stressful getting there, then that’s when problems occur such as needing emergency treatment or time off work and so on. On the other hand, a brilliant dentist is worth two near the bush, nearby! If your appointments are going to be at a particular time of day them make sure you can get there in good time. Dentists really appreciate patients who attend on time and are punctual.
- Working hours
I know a dentist who won’t start till 9:15am most mornings and books his last patient at 4:15pm except Thursdays when he finishes at 12pm. Also he needs to have extended lunch from 12:20pm till 2pm. Needless to say; there are no evening or early morning appointments or Saturdays. This may work for some people but even for “flexible patients”, you may choose to think twice before registering here. Some of the reasons for short hours are that the dentist has lost interest in his/her work and is just waiting to wind down to retirement. Ask yourself if you really want to register there. Also beware of part timers. Even they may work elsewhere, it is no use to you if you get a raging tooth ache when he is off and have to wait days for an emergency slot.
- Principal or Associate
Although, everyone within dentistry refers to the terms principal and associate, it is not uncommon for a lay patient to know the difference let alone know why there is a difference. It has nothing to do with skills or qualifications. A principal of the practice “owns” the practice so makes all the decisions both clinical and non-clinical concerning the smooth running of the practice. The buck stops with them. An associate dentist does not “own” the practice but simply chooses to work there and can leave if they don’t like it or if another practice suits them better. It has been documented that an average associate term in some parts of the country, is less than 6 months. This means and it does frequently happen where patient’s complain that they “never see the same dentist twice.” It is far better to have continuity with the same dentist. In this way, you can build a better level of rapport, communication is improved and the same dentist becomes more familiar with your mouth rather than someone new who has to start from scratch each visit. On the other hand, some associates do stay with a particular surgery for years and years so could be good in that the principle is a good boss to work for and you know that you will see the same associate again. It is very easy to find out if the dentist you are going to choose is “the associate or the principal”. Just phone and ask! While you are on the phone, it’s your chance to ask the other questions which are mentioned here.
- Examples of their work
Most, I would say over 95% of dentists, do not take before and after photographs of their work. So as a patient, if you are to need especially cosmetic dentistry such as tooth whitening, veneers, teeth straightening, crowns, and composite fillings to replace amalgam, surely you need to see examples of what they can do? Be critical and make sure, there has not been any “Photoshop” performed or images off the internet. Are there lots of examples or just a few? Is the dentist enthusiastic to show you their work or not? Will they even let you speak to any of their patients for feedback with consent of course? All the above points are so critical and you do need to be as critical as possible yourself before you even let anyone near you for cosmetic and complex work.
- Good with nervous patients
Over 50% of patients do not go to see the dentist because they are plain and simple, terrified. Being terrified is nothing to be ashamed about and even if you are in the minority who has no apprehension about dentists, it is always good to have a dentist who is exceptional with nervous patients. Not all dentists will or are even able to treat nervous patients.
As a dentist, in order to treat nervous patients, one must themselves be of a calm and patient nature. You will also need good communication skills and a sense of humour goes a long way. When you need to choose a new dentist, even if you are not nervous, find out if your dentist is good with nervous patients as these qualities are highly transferable to all patients.
- Is the practice well organised?
It is quite easy to tell, how organized and effective a dental practice is. Firstly, just phone them with a few queries and listen to how you are dealt with. Sometimes you will get a sense that the surgery runs on “pandemonium” from this simple exercise alone. Are they willing to help you and do they make you feel welcome or are you just another number. Be aware however, that anybody can have a “bad day at the office” so you can also offer to call back another time, if you feel this may be the case. Do they answer specific questions fully or do you feel they are just regurgitating rehearsed answers? If you are still undecided, literally, go and pay them a visit. You will get a feel about the place, its staff and even existing patients in their waiting room. Whilst you are there, ask them for their fees list and practice brochure which is a regulatory requirement. Pay attention to the environment including the sounds and smells. When you come out, you want a feeling inside you saying,” yes, I definitely want to be registered here as a patient!”
- Choose at random.
You may think that choosing at random is the worst advice to give. But here is good reasoning why this can be a good place to start to finding a new dentist for yourself. Sometimes, when you think you have found your ideal dentist but are still not fully, fully 100% sure, one thing that you can do is to compare with another practice. In fact, choose two other surgeries which perhaps also fit the bill and at least you can then compare all three. Ideally, it is best to actually have a full checkup with the actual dentist. If you are worried about the costs, many dentists will give you an introductory free initial check up for new patients so you may as well use this incentive if you can.
- Trust your instincts as well.
Even after you have considered all the above points, you may still not be able to choose the right dentist to look after the health of your teeth and gums. If you have a choice between dental surgeries, just go for which you “feel” is the best for you and don’t forget, there is never, ever anything anybody can do if you change your mind. In fact, some patients do even have two dentists. One may be for their general dental treatment and the other may be for the more specialized work.
- Finally, the fees
Finally we come to the important subject of fees. Patient’s will often say that the “paying” hurts more than the “pain.” You want a practice that is totally upfront about all their fees. Dentists are required by their governing bodies to fully display their fees and to tell you in advance by writing, what you will be expected to pay for any treatment you need. Always ask for full breakdowns and also as to what happens if things don’t go according to plan. For example, a filling you are about to have done costs say £85. The filling has been done but you start to get sensitivity and need to go back. Will you have to pay for each and every time you go back? What if the tooth now needs a root canal at a cost of £600? You want these sorts of questions answered fully and to your satisfaction before and not after. What guarantee is there with any treatment? Even if you decide to get a second opinion, are there costs for releasing your records including x-rays? All these are important and always always ask for written treatment plans and costs. Whenever in doubt just ask, ask and ask!