If you live in Raleigh, NC and are trying to choose a new dentist, you could easily face a dilemma when you start trying to narrow the field to suit your own purposes. Most of the state is underserved when it comes to patient/dentist ratios. Not so for Raleigh, perhaps due to the presence of the nearby UNC Dental School. Ignoring for a moment the existence of clear subspecialties of dentistry (such as oral surgeons and periodontists), there are more than 250 general dentists in Raleigh from whom to choose!
Because there are so many general dentists in Raleigh, many choose to focus on a specific audience, such as children (pediatric dentistry). But you may become confused about what services other types of dentists are actually making available to you, especially if you read the promotional materials for Raleigh dentists. All of the categories that follow are merely areas of focus that, like pediatric dentistry, have to do with the type of people a Raleigh dental practice is trying to specifically serve. This is, after all, an age of specialization, and it just makes good sense for dentists in Raleigh to be responsive to needs of different types of patients. The same approach for choosing a dentist cannot be used successfully in many other areas of the state of North Carolina – especially rural areas, where one or just a few dentists may be trying to serve the needs of an entire county. (That’s why plans for a second dental school in the state were recently launched.)
To help you sort through your confusion if you live in Raleigh, the categories most often used by general dentists in the area are defined below. These definitions are provided to assist you in making the best choice possible for your circumstances. The definitions are informal; most being neither formally defined by the American Dental Association nor by the NC Dental Board. Except where indicated in the definitions, there are no specific regulations that govern them. The NC Dental Board requires that all general dentists meet certain guidelines, and general dentists in Raleigh may opt to call themselves any of the following (except where additional requirements apply and have been noted below). In Raleigh, using the first four categories – if they are applicable to your needs – is one of the quickest ways to narrow the field of 250 dentists significantly. If you have needs for Sedation Dentistry, you will narrow the field even more quickly. (Raleigh had only six NC Dental Board certified providers of Oral Conscious Sedation dentistry in June 2009.)
-Cosmetic Dentistry – Dentists who perform work that is primarily aesthetic in nature – in other words, they provide services that will enhance your smile.
-Sedation Dentistry – Dentists who provide additional sedation services (beyond the “standard” anesthetics used by most general dentists) to help manage anxiety and sensitivity to pain. Effective in 2009, the NC Dental Board now regulates the administration of sedation by general dentists – requiring both special training and experience for those who provide sedation services. There are different levels of sedation permits. Most patients who experience anxiety or have sensitivity to pain can be served by the level known as Oral Conscious Sedation.
-Implant Dentistry – Dentists who provide dental implants (replacements for your natural teeth), which are an alternative to dentures and bridges, or may be used in conjunction with them to provide greater stability and/or an improved, more natural appearance.
-Comprehensive Dentistry – Dentists who are interested in being full-service providers for their patients – sparing the patient/family from frequent referrals to specialists. Their services may include cosmetic and implant dentistry services, orthodontic services, and periodontal treatments – in addition of preventive dentistry services. These dentists may have more extensive training in order to offer the broader range of services. (Check the experience.) In addition to convenience, they offer an ongoing and full understanding of the patient (needs, preferences, expectations, general health) to make all aspects of dental care more customized and easier for patients. This is a relatively new type of practice in Raleigh, although rapidly gaining popularity.
-Preventive Dentistry – Dentists who focus on the preservation of healthy teeth and gums and the prevention of cavities and oral disease. All general dentists have training in preventive dentistry, as well as restorative procedures (fillings, crowns, etc.) needed to preserve oral health. Preventive dental care is more likely to be at least partially covered by dental insurance, while cosmetic dentistry services often are not.
-Family Dentistry – Dentists whose focus is on treating patients of all ages (as opposed to pediatric dentists). Family dentists often place primary focus on providing preventive dentistry services, rather than cosmetic dentistry services.
Now that you understand the differences in types of general dentistry service categories that exist for Raleigh dentists, don’t be confused if you find that some dentists fall into more than one category. Pick as many categories as you feel apply to your own or your family’s needs. Because Raleigh dentists are situated in the state’s “cradle of technology,” most are likely to have websites that state what their areas of focus are. This is particularly true of dentists who fall into the first four categories. More than likely, you can locate the type(s) of dentists of interest to you by using a search engine, and then explore what each dentist’s range of services and experience is within any given focus area.
Even in technology-savvy Raleigh, you may find some Family Dentistry and Preventive Dentistry providers who do not have websites and prefer to focus on the more “traditional” range of general dentistry services. They may choose to limit their listings to conventional print phone advertising directories, or general online directory listings. Remember, too, that Comprehensive Dentistry providers usually provide Family and Preventive Dentistry services, in addition to their broader range of services.
Use the categories identified in this article to help you decide which types of services you want – both now and in the future. Narrow the field down to a much smaller number of Raleigh dentists who are a good match for your needs. Then, contact the ones that look like the best match, and ask any additional questions that might not be answered on their websites or other information that has been made available to you about their practices.
As you begin the final round of evaluation to find the general dentist in Raleigh best suited to your needs, remember that experience is very important to consider, too. Check the initial training of the dentist, but also consider what types of additional clinical experience the dentist received, in addition to the number of years he or she has been in private practice. From a reputation standpoint, how long has the dentist been in practice in the Raleigh area? If you plan to use cosmetic or comprehensive dentistry services, it may be helpful to ask about the number of similar procedures your prospective dentist has performed. Certainly, looks matter when it comes to cosmetic dentistry results, but function and oral health are very important to preserve during the smile enhancement process.