Good questions make great patients

Jun 18,2021

Good questions

What makes a good dentist or doctor? Is it the school they went to, or how many degrees they earned or articles they have written? I have been a dentist for over 30 years, and I have spent a lot of time listening to not only my patients, but to lots of people I have met on planes, trains, while traveling, while golfing, and whenever someone hears that I am a dentist they usually want to tell me one of their own doctor stories. For better or worse. When patients come into my office for the first time, I listen to them tell me about their dental experience and most of the time before I even look in their mouth I have a pretty good idea of what is going on.

So what makes a good doctor? Good communication. Most patients get frustrated and leave a doctor’s care because they don’t feel understood, their questions aren’t answered. They themselves don’t understand what is going on in their mouth or their body. Add to that pain, and this just isn’t good. Part of the equation of good health care lies with the doctor asking the right questions, which is something I teach to young dental students at the University of Connecticut. Part of the equation lies in the questions that you, the patient ask, and continue to ask, until you get answers that make sense to you. So the next time you go to the dentist, here are some questions that should help you get the information you need.

  1. What are my treatment options? If you are told you need to have any type of dental work done, there are always options. Some may not be the best, but there are choices. Ask about that. One choice is always to do nothing – which can result in infection, pain, emergency scenarios. Another choice can be the ideal treatment, and somewhere in between are a few more choices. Ask for choices, costs, and time involved in each.
  2. If you go to the dentist with discomfort or pain, make a list detailing the symptoms as clearly as possible – when did it start, how long does it last, what makes it feel worse, and better. Then ask what can you expect to happen in the next few days? What can I take over the counter if I can’t reach you , doctor? Ask questions to be prepared.
  3. If you are being referred to a specialist, like an orthodontist or endodontist, ask how long have you been working with this specialist? Have you ever been to his or her office? Have you ever been treated by him or her, or anyone on your staff? If I have questions after my appointment, is there another specialist I can get a second opinion from?
  4. What is new since my last visit? Ask what the office has changed or updated since your last visit. Have they taken a class? Volunteered on a service trip? Invested in any new equipment?
  5. How can I best reach you if I find I have a question after I leave? Most dentists and doctors have busy daytime schedules and cannot readily take calls, but everyone has emails and some have dedicated cell phones just to receive texts and calls after hours. Best to ask them for their preferred method of communicating!