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Make Your Dentist Your Partner

Have you ever walked out of a dentist's office wishing you had asked the dentist or the staff something? Or, maybe you didn't understand something the dentist said, or something the orthodontist told you about your child's oral health.

"One of the most important things you can do to ensure great oral health care is to develop a good relationship with your dentist," says Kimberly A. Harms, D.D.S., a consumer adviser for the American Dental Association (ADA) who practices in Minnesota. You'll be more relaxed when you realize you can ask any question of the dentist or the staff. That includes your queries about treatment, pain, cosmetic dentistry, cost, or financing.

Understand the problem

"A good initial question to ask is whether there is a problem," says Donald R. Joondeph, D.D.S., president of the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) and a Seattle orthodontist. "You always want to understand the problem and its implications."

For instance, he adds, "You should ask about the implications should you allow the problem to go untreated. And you should ask what treatment options are available for your problem." It helps to write down your questions at home. They help ensure that you and your dentist are on the same page.

Some problems call for a specialist. Your regular dentist can tell you whom he or she recommends and why. Different specialists raise different questions.

If you or your child sees an orthodontist, for instance, the experts suggest you ask how long treatment is likely to take. "Braces can be on for 18 to 30 months, but the typical range of time is usually 20 to 24 months," Dr. Joondeph notes.

Parents should know the questions that braces raise among children. "Children are interested in pain and the length of treatment," says C. Brian Preston, B.D.S., D.Orth., M.Dent., Ph.D., an orthodontics specialist in Buffalo, N.Y. "Children are frequently concerned with their image in terms of peer pressure, and this can work two ways: They may wish to improve their look, while on the other hand wearing appliances will detract from their appearance in the short term."

Ask questions

What if you are facing oral surgery? You might ask the surgeon about the type of anesthesia he or she will use for your procedure, or which reconstruction methods are available in your case.

It is always wise to ask any specialist about options for any type of surgery, healing time, and your chances for a good result. If a second opinion might make you more comfortable with a procedure, your dentist is a good source of advice.

Some patients have financial concerns. "Most orthodontists have an office manager or treatment coordinator who will explain options for financing treatment to patients and to parents," says Dr. Joondeph. Flexible payment options are often available, so ask your own dentist for details. "There are a lot of options."

It's smart to know exactly what is and is not covered in your dental insurance plan. The experts say patients are often surprised to learn what their plans might or might not cover.