How to choose a dentist - old dentist sign

How to choose a dentist – 7 considerations

Most of don’t give a lot of thought into this because we’ve either been using the same dentist for a number of years or you’ve gotten recommendations from friends.  But putting thought and research into this is critical to ensure your dentist is certified and in good standing.  Do you know which credentials to look for with respect to general dentistry or perhaps specific procedures you or a loved one are considering? Understanding the details behind the dentist will help you understand how to choose a dentist that will be a great fit for you and your loved ones.

Most people spend more time researching a car or a house than they do their dentist and yet selecting the wrong dentist can cause far more problems than a bad car purchase can.  The last time you went on vacation, how much research did you do on the flights, the rental car, the vacation spot? Hours at least, I’d wager. You did the online research, maybe you talked with some friends who had been there, you read the reviews online. All of that for perhaps a weeks retreat, well earned no doubt.  How you choose your dentist deserves at least as much thought and effort or more.

What you have here in this article is all of the information you need to do solid research on your dentist.  If you are already using one and would like to do some research or perhaps you have moved into a new area and need to find a new dentist, the information below will be of great value.  Take your time, do the research, make the best selection.


  1. Why should you research your dentist?
  2. What should you be looking for?
  3. Licensing, Board Certification and Accreditation
  4. Extra Info about Board Certification (because it’s important!)
  5. Internship vs. Residency vs. Fellowship
  6. Researching your dentist
  7. Dental Specialties (description and links for the major 24 board specialties)

How to find the best dentistWHY RESEARCH YOUR DENTIST?

Finding horrors stories of bad dental work is pretty easy – just google any dental scenario that would make your skin crawl and you’ll find plenty of examples. The intent here is to prevent this sort of thing from happening to you or your family members

Obviously, avoiding these kinds of disastrous scenarios by negligent or less than competent dentists is important.  Understanding how to choose a dentist – what to look for (and look out for!) is critical to helping this dentist search be successful for you.

As mentioned before, the best way to do this is to understand what needs to be researched – what’s important – and then do that research.  We compared this to buying a vacation or a car before and the comparison is a good one.  If you’re in a situation where you are relocating, you’ll research your new neighborhood, the schools, the demographics, etc.  Might as well lump in researching a dentist onto that list as well.  It can be done in an afternoon and afterwards you’ll know you have made the best decision

Take the time to do it.

When digging into a dentist’s education and experience, there is a lot to take in and a lot of different places to get it from.  There are also a million and one places and ways to get sidetracked so every now and then, while you’re doing your research, stop and ask yourself if you are still on target.  There’s a very good chance you’ll drift a bit, so hold yourself accountable to stay on track.

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What are you looking for?  We highly recommend creating a document or a spreadsheet to record this information for a later comparison between the dentists you are researching.

American Dental Association member?

The ADA is the largest, oldest, and most well known and well recognized advocate for dentistry as well as the American public.  The ADA serves both and does it well.  The latest numbers show about 163,000 member dentists that are registered with the ADA and are in their “find a dentist” tool.  If you are working with a dentist that is an ADA member dentist, much of the research has been done for you but there’s still work to be done.

Does your dentist take dental insurance?

Oddly enough, some don’t.  Or they don’t take your insurance.  Dental work can be quite expensive so you’ll want to check this up front.


Doesn’t matter actually.  Both are degrees that the dentist earns by completing the same curriculum.  Some universities award DDS, others award DMD but they are essentially the same.  DDS is Doctor of Dental Surgery while DMD is Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry or Doctor of Dental Medicine.  So you certainly want to work with a dentist that is rated as either DDS or DMD but one is not preferable over the other.

Where did your dentist get his/her degree?

On the surface, this is obvious.  Was it a no-name or little known school or was it ivy league?  This may point to a better foundation of knowledge.  Dentists generally require three or more years of undergraduate study plus another four years of dental school to become a general dentist. After that, more training is required to become specialized in fields such as orthodontics.

What specialty/specialities is your dentist accredited for?

Mention is made below of the various post doctoral programs your dentist may have taken part of, thereby earning accreditation in a discipline such as endodontics or pediatric dentistry.

Did your dentist perform a fellowship and, if yes, where?

A fellowship after residency shows increased desire to learn and stay abreast of the most recent breakthroughs and techniques.  Like the residency, most dentist bios will state if they participated in a fellowship and where.  And like the residency, this is another very strong indicator of the quality and competence of the dentist.

What state is your dentist licensed in?

Basic common sense, but make sure your dentist is licensed in your state.  Licenses are statewide only – they must be licensed in the state in which they practice. See below for links for each state to do this research.

What additional research has your dentist been involved with?

Many dentists, in an effort to expand their expertise and improve or enhance dental techniques participate in studies or research alongside their primary position.  A dentist that is published in one of the well known journals, or that has participated in ground breaking research shows unusual attention and focus in their chosen specialty – these dentists are generally well regarded and tend to be more knowledgeable of current trends and techniques.

What vendor or manufacturer relationships might your dentist have that could affect treatment or medicines?

Many dentists, for one reason or another, develop relationships with vendors or manufacturers.  Often this is harmless and gives the dentist a chance to further expand his or her horizons but at times, it can influence the treatment you may receive.

Pharmaceutical Salespeople – commonly known as Drug Reps – often develop relationships with medical professionals and give them free samples that can then be given to their patients.  It is entirely legal for dentists to give this medicine to their patients but they cannot sell it to them.

The problem that can arise if these relationships are taken to the extreme is that the dentist may prescribe a medicine or device from a friendly rep in favor over a better medicine, or may opt for less effective medical devices (for example) over better equipment. In a well publicized case, four orthopedic device manufacturers paid $311 million to settle claims that they had bribed surgeons to use their hip and knee replacement implant products – yes, this pertains to doctors but dentists are subject to this as well and when determining how to choose a dentist, this should be taken into account.

How long has your dentist been practicing?

This is important as you may have a preference of one over the other.  Generally, there are two extremes with the expected middle ground cases as well

The brand new dentist that is eager and smart and has been recently instructed of all the latest procedures and equipment

The aged dentist who has been around a long time, has tons of experience, but has not been instructed on the latest procedures and equipment

And the middle of the road dentist who has been practicing for an appreciable amount of time, yet is “new” enough to have been trained on the latest procedures and equipment.

For the latter two categories, the specific dentist’s initiative and interest in continued education about their specialty will weigh heavily here – there’s nothing to say that an older dentist isn’t up to speed on  new advancements.

How long has your dentist been practicing in his/her present location?

Has your dentist moved around a bit? If so, why?  If they recently moved to your state, you should research what they did in their previous location.  Most of the time they are simply relocating with no bad intentions but occasionally, like anybody else, they are running from something.

How many procedures of the kind you are considering has your dentist performed in the last year?  Last 5 years? How many complications have arisen in those time frames?

This seems like a difficult question to ask your dentist but you should feel entirely comfortable asking him or her directly.  Think about your own job – how often are you called upon to tell a potential customer how well you can do it…how well you’ve done it in the past…how many times in the past it hasn’t gone well.  Why should it be any different for a dentist?

Are there any personality or attitude problems you perceive with your dentist or his/her staff? How comfortable are you in the dentist’s office?

This is one of those intangibles that only you can answer.  How comfy are you with the dentist, the staff and the office in general?

One common and obvious piece of advice you may notice that is missing from the above checklist is patient reviews.  There is a host of internet sites you can turn to to read reviews but we advise caution with this approach for a number of reasons:

  • Some review sites actually allow the reviewee to alter or change the review.  Obviously a bad practice and you don’t see this much.  The catch is, it’s hard to determine what sites actually allow this and which don’t…and which category the site you are looking at falls into
  • Most review sites have glowing recommendations of dentists and any derogatory or inflammatory reviews are not posted.  This can skew your research in favor of a dentist that may actually have performed incompetently in the past.  There are many instances of dentists who have been sued, even arrested for the damage to patients, despite stellar online reviews.

The only reviews you should look at are the ones where you know good, bad and mediocre reviews are posted and not alterable by anybody.  Certainly the dentist can offer comments but the primary review should be unalterable.  With this in mind, here are a few to look at:

  • Yelp (yep, Yelp!)
  • – this is a site you can research based on a number of parameters that are important to you.
  • – very much like HeathGrades – you can search based on parameters you are interested in.
  • – much like the above.

Once you get the answers to these questions, you’ll be in a very good position to make a well-informed and educated decision about your dentist you are considering.  It actually takes very little time to gather this information and, as promised, we provide everything you need right here in this article.  So get a piece of paper or spin up a spreadsheet and start researching and taking notes.

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There is some confusion surrounding these terms and how they apply to dentists.  Take a look at the below to better understand these distinctions around dental credentials and to help you make a  more informed decision.

Licensing:  A dentist practicing in any state must  be licensed in that state via the state’s licensing system.  These are entirely state driven and are purely a license, not a certification.  The requirements for licensing are far less rigorous than for certification boards.

Licensing is entirely public knowledge – including the granting of or withdrawal of a dentist’s license.

Board Certification:  More rigorous than state licensing is Board Certification, which is a voluntary process demonstrating a dentist’s commitment to learning and patient care.  Below is a detailed description and links to check any dentist’s board certification status.  Bear in mind that a dentist may be board certified in one area but practicing in another – there is nothing to prevent this.  Likewise, there is no method in place to check a claim that a dentist is, in fact, board certified other than the manual research you are doing now.  It is in your best interest to understand the board certifications and run through a quick and simple dentist credential lookup before undergoing any procedure.

It should be noted that obtaining Board Certification in any of the specialty areas is tough – the result is the kind of dentist you want to have working on you.  When researching Board Certification, you’ll also see a term used quite a bit: Maintenance of Certification, or MOC.  This denotes an ongoing program with requirements for learning and assessments.  Meeting the requirements of their specialty’s MOC shows a commitment to sustain and improve the quality of care they provide.

Accreditation: A dentist can obtain accreditation by displaying a number of quality defining practices, to include ethical behavior, participation in a peer review, clinical self-assessment, absence of disciplinary actions, and a host of others.  Accreditation is non-specialty specific and requires only that the dentist be licensed, not necessarily board certified.

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A little background is in order on the subject of “Board Certifications”.  It’s important to understand that any dentist that is Board Certified will be certified in a given specialty.  So a Board Certified Endodontist will have gone through school, got his or her license, performed a residency, survived the evaluations and passed the oral and written tests associated with the Endodontics Board Certification. When considering how to choose a dentist, careful thought should be given to the specialities the dentists have.

It’s important to check the specialty of your dentists board certification.  Remember, the fact that he or she has a state license allows him or her to practice in your state, regardless of what specialty they advertise.  It makes sense to match up their board certifications with the procedures you’re considering.  It would be far better to go to the previously discussed Board Certified Endodontist for a Root Canal than to a Board Certified Pediatric dentist.  The Pediatric Dentist might be great, but he has not done a residency, gone through the evaluations and examinations that are specific to Endodontics. As always, a thorough dentist credentials lookup is the best approach – do the research and then do not be afraid to follow up with direct questions.

As mentioned elsewhere, there are many cases where dentists can be double and even triple board certified.  What you want to look for here is a logical progression of board certifications – a progression that shows continued interest in a given specialty.  A dentist that is double board certified in Oral/Maxillofacial Pathology and Dental Anesthesia shows a bit of a lack of focus or interest in one or the other areas of expertise.  From the dates of the certifications, you can tell which came first and, therefore, where this dentist’s most recent interests lie.  Far better to find a double certified dentist in related fields such as Dental Public Health and Dental Pediatrics, for example.

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When doing your research to choose a dentist, you will find dentist descriptions that say they did their residency at a given location and then a few will also show a fellowship at the same or different location.  It’s important to understand these distinctions as they are important in terms of skill and an indication of a dentists who is interested in ongoing education.  Also, it’s important to understand that different universities offer slightly different definitions and programs but generally, the below are covered:

Intern is a single year of training and includes direct patient care. Interns typically require the most supervision and are considered the least qualified dentists.  Internships are available to any dentist with a dental degree and can be for general dentistry or any of the dental specialities.

Residency is the required length of time in which a licensed dentist must practice in a specialty to be board certified.  Most specialties require a dentist to have practiced in a residency for a given amount of time – 1 to 5 years for example.  During this time, they gain training and increased responsibility but they are, at all times, under the watch of an attending dentists.  For the most part, think of a residency as that period of time that (normally) follows a dentist getting their state license and starting to train for their specialty.

Fellowship is specialty training that follows residency training.  A dentist undergoing fellowship shows increased focus and interest in the latest techniques and procedures.  Many “residents” undergo a Fellowship while waiting on their Board Certification to be completed.

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We’ve covered it before, but I’ll say it again here.  The first thing to look for is a license.  Remember that your dentist is licensed in a given state so you want to make sure your dentist’s license matches the state you live in (or will be having the procedure done in).

After that, you’ll want to do a bit more digging to find out the other details such as where they got their degree, where they performed their residency, if they have any negative information associated with them, have they moved around too much and do they do paid research for vendors or manufacturers.  Most of this information can be found on the links below.

Bear in mind that negative or disciplinary comments are not always provided.  They are also not provided until the case or lawsuit is finalized so although the links below may show a clean history, there is still a chance your dentist is involved in an ongoing lawsuit or legal situation.  After all of the research is done below, you should follow it up with some basic Google searches such as:

Google the following terms:

  • dentist_name
  • dentist_name awards
  • dentist_name research
  • dentist_name malpractice
  • dentist_name lawsuit
  • dentist_name disciplinary

You should also look your dentistup on LinkedIn to see what kind of professional profile he or she maintains.  And, of course, Twitter and Facebook can also be researched to get a more well-rounded picture of what your dentist is really like.

It’s important to note that although you want and need to know these details, sometimes dentists get sued frivolously or by just plain old cranky patients.  So if your research shows your dentist was sued, take the time to find out why.  You may dismiss an otherwise excellent dentist because one of his patients didn’t like his bedside manner or maybe the patient was just having a bad day.  It happens.

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Dentist lookup by StateResearch your dentist

AlabamaAlaska | ArizonaArkansasCalifornia | Colorado | Connecticut | Delaware | Florida | District of Columbia

Georgia | Hawaii | Idaho | Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Kansas | Kentucky | Louisiana |  Maine  |  Maryland  | Massachusetts

Michigan  |  Minnesota  |  Mississippi  |  Missouri  |  Montana  |  Nebraska  |  Nevada  |  New Hampshire  |  New Jersey

New Mexico  |  New York  |  North Carolina  |  North Dakota  |  Ohio  |  Oklahoma  |  Oregon  |  Pennsylvania

Rhode Island  |  South Carolina  |  South Dakota  |  Tennessee  |  Texas  |  Utah  |  Vermont  |  Virginia

Washington  |  West Virginia  |  Wisconsin  |  Wyoming


How to choose a dentist – research your dentist by name

There are a lot of different tools to use to research dentists – a few ancillary methods are shared below.  Just be sure to understand that the results you are seeing are not necessarily official documents or findings but rather they are often patient opinions (which can often be just as valuable!).

  • Yelp (yep, Yelp!)
  • – this is a site you can research based on a number of parameters that are important to you.
  • – very much like HealthGrades – you can search based on parameters you are interested in..

There are times when you don’t have a dentist’s name – you just need to find a list of dentists that have a specific kind of practice.  An organization that is dedicated to rating the quality of physicians based on the quality of the care they provide to their patients is the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA).

Resolving a dispute with a dentist

The relationship between a dentist and his or her patients is crucial and most dentists go to great lengths to make sure their patients are extremely well cared for and comfortable.  Miscommunication or misunderstandings are in nobody’s best interests and you won’t find many successful dentists or dental offices where this is not an extremely high priority.  However, in spite of this, problems can arise and when they do, rather than fighting it out with the dentist, there are state by state associations that will help.

Alabama Dental Association  |  Alaska Dental Society   |  Arizona Dental Association   |  Arkansas State Dental Association   |  Colegio de Cirujanos Dentistas de Puerto Rico    |
Colorado Dental Association   |   Connecticut State Dental Association   |   Delaware State Dental Society   |   District of Columbia Dental Society   |
Florida Dental Association   |   Georgia Dental Association   |   Hawaii Dental Association   |  Idaho State Dental Association    |
Illinois State Dental Society   |   Indiana Dental Association   |   Iowa Dental Association   |   Kansas Dental Association   |   Kentucky Dental Association   |
Maine Dental Association   |   Maryland State Dental Association   |   Massachusetts Dental Society   |   Michigan Dental Association   |
Minnesota Dental Association    |   Mississippi Dental Association   |   Missouri Dental Association   |   Montana Dental Association   |   Nebraska Dental Association   |
Nevada Dental Association   |   New Hampshire Dental Society   |   New Jersey Dental Association   |   New Mexico Dental Association   |
New York State Dental Association   |   North Carolina Dental Society   |   North Dakota Dental Association   |   Ohio Dental Association   |
Oklahoma Dental Association   |   Oregon Dental Association   |   Pennsylvania Dental Association   |   Rhode Island Dental Association   |
South Carolina Dental Association   |   South Dakota Dental Association   |   Tennessee Dental Association   |   Texas Dental Association   |
Utah Dental Association   |   Vermont State Dental Society   |   Virginia Dental Association    |   Washington State Dental Association   |
West Virginia Dental Association   |   Wisconsin Dental Association   |   Wyoming Dental Association    |

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There are a number of dental specialties recognized by the National Commission on Recognition of Dental Specialties and Certifying Boards.  Ten, to be exact, as of this writing.  They are detailed below along with their recognized organizations:

Dental Anesthesiology

Dental Public Health


Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology

    • American Academy of Oral & Maxillofacial Pathology

Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology

    • American Academy of Oral & Maxillofacial Radiology

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery

    • American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons

Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics

Pediatric Dentistry



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This information has been compiled for you to use to research and better understand your options as a prospective patient – as mentioned a few times now doing a dentist credentials lookup should be considered a critical step to help you determine how to choose a dentist.  Dental Georgia works with dentists throughout Georgia to help bring you the very best information.