When I meet a patient for the first time, I always ask them about their past experience. Usually it's to give myself an idea of their dental condition but it's also to better understand what happened with their previous dentist. It's always good to know why the patient is switching clinics. Is it because they changed jobs? Is it because they moved? Or is it because something went wrong?
When a patient tells me about their relationship with their previous dentist, sometimes it involves feelings of distrust, they were not happy with the work, or the costs seemed to be too high. So today I'd like to discuss how to empower yourself as a patient, how to be directly involved with your dental care, and how to maintain a solid relationship with your dentist.
The biggest thing in a patient-dentist relationship is open communication. The first thing a dentist should be asking you is about your chief complaint. What is bothering you about your teeth? Is something hurting you? Is it something cosmetic? Whatever it may be, your dentist should be answering your primary concern and making it a priority in your treatment plan. Make sure your dentist is listening to your needs. If your dentist seems to be making something else a priority, ask them why. It may be something that needs to be treated more urgently.
When it comes to dental work, there is rarely just one option available. There is always an ideal option, which your dentist will usually make the priority, as our goal is to keep your oral health at it's finest and make the treatment long-lasting and functional. In many cases, the ideal option is not always what the patient will opt for as it may involve high costs, surgery, a long healing-time, or several appointments that the patient cannot commit to. However, the ideal option must always be proposed along with other options. Make sure your dentist is offering you all the options available to you, even if they may not be ideal. Each additional option for treatment has it's advantages and disadvantages. For example: the second option for treatment may be more cost-effective, but it also might mean not lasting as long, or it may mean having to avoid eating certain foods. When the options (pros and cons) are all made available to you, that's when you can give your INFORMED CONSENT to follow through with the treatment. You should not feel pressure by your dentist to choose a treatment. We are here to help you, inform you, and execute the treatment in the best way we know how.
So we all know dental work costs a fortune, and a lot of people put off going to the dentist to avoid these costs. But I promise you, if you invest a little bit at first, it's just maintenance down the road, saving you a lot of potential costs. Many patients don't understand where these costs come from and feel they can get the work done for a much cheaper price in another country. This is known as DENTAL TOURISM which is becoming evermore popular. Patients will travel to foreign countries, receive their dental treatments at a fraction of the cost, and then come back to North America with a whole load of issues and not understand why. Let me make this clear: you get what you pay for. It's like all those stories we've heard of women getting plastic surgery down in Mexico... and everyone cringes at the thought, because we're all aware of the consequences. Well, it's the same reaction your dentist has when they ask where your dental work was done! The reason the costs are often so high at the dentist in North America is because we use high quality materials, the newest technology, and advanced equipment which all come at a cost. Not to mention the overhead cost of the assistant, hygienist, receptionist, hydro, plumbing, repair, maintenance... the list goes on and on. Of course there is always the education and expertise of the dental professional treating you which has to be factored in. So at the end of the day, you are investing in high quality care by a certified professional. Trust me: You won't like how much it will cost to fix your mistake! Get it done once and get it done right.
When you go for your check-up, make sure you feel comfortable with your dentist. You need to be able to ask them questions. This is the most important step to empowering yourself as a patient and being involved with your dental care. If your dentist isn't already showing you your x-rays and pointing out the cavities or bone loss, or whatever issues you may be having, feel free to ask them: Where is my cavity? Which tooth? Can you explain to me why I need it repaired? Your dentist should feel more than happy to explain these things to you. It is your health, your time, and your money. You have every right to know what the treatment is and why it needs to be done. If you are not comfortable with the response your dentist is giving you, or you feel hesitant to proceed, seek a second opinion! Often times I will show the patient using an intra-oral camera, or even a hand mirror to explain what it is I am seeing in their mouth and why it needs to be fixed. If you have multiple treatments that need to be executed, ask your dentist which one is most important. Ask them if it absolultely needs to be done, if it can wait, or how long before it becomes too late. We are human. We understand that life happens. Our patients have kids, and work obligations, and renovations on the house to be done... we just want you to know what needs to be made a priority in your mouth!
Make sure you like your dentist and that you trust them. Sometimes things go wrong. A filling falls out, a root canal is unpleasant, wisdom teeth take a little longer to heal. If you have a good relationship with your dentist and an open dialogue, these issues can often be resolved much more effectively. So as a patient: voice your concerns, ask questions, and you'll be leaving your next appointment with more than just a smile on your face!