The New Patient Experience: Your Most Important Dental Appointment
Question: “Dr. Arnold, I called a new dentist recently, and I was told that I would be there for almost two hours and that I might not even get my teeth cleaned. Why wouldn’t they have enough time to clean my teeth at the first appointment?”
Answer: At your first visit with a new dental office, it is essential to have adequate time to get to know the team and for them to learn your dental “wants” and “needs”. This is probably the most important appointment that you will ever have with your dentist.
The team will most likely spend quite a bit of time asking you questions and listening carefully to your answers. Discussing past dental experiences, current concerns, and your goals for your oral health is essential to finding out what kind of care you are seeking. After getting to know you, discussing your dental and medical histories, and letting you know what to expect from the team during your visits, dental x-rays and digital photos are likely to be taken. Some dentists will even make impressions in order to create models of your teeth.
A thorough examination, including an oral cancer screening, periodontal and TMJ evaluations, and a close inspection of all of your teeth will follow. Throughout this process, the dentist, hygienist, or assistant should carefully explain what they see and spend time educating you as to how to better care for your teeth and gums.
During the periodontal (gums and the bone that support your teeth) examination, a determination will be made as to what type of “cleaning” you will need and how much time it will take. Once the appropriate recommendation has been made, there may or may not be adequate time available to do a thorough job at the new patient appointment. Some patients will require much more time than has been allotted, and will need to schedule another appointment or appointments.
If it has been quite a while since your last thorough examination and cleaning, you are more likely to have some level of gum (or gum and bone) disease. Depending upon the severity of the disease, you may need multiple appointments and anesthetic to get the job done properly. You may even require a referral to a specialist called a periodontist.
Dentists who decide to postpone the cleaning until a later date are only doing so to ensure that you receive the appropriate care. When the cleaning is taken care of at the first appointment, it probably means that you have done an exceptional job of taking care of your teeth and gums and that you have been receiving regular dental care.
The most important thing is that your new patient examination is very thorough and that the dental team takes the time necessary to establish a positive relationship. Any attempt to rush through the new patient experience is detrimental to everyone.
Dr. Jim Arnold is a practicing dentist in Chesterton and Valparaiso. He is also a clinical mentor with the Hornbrook Group and serves on the Advisory Board for the Academy of Comprehensive Esthetics as the Fellowship Chairman. You may send questions to his office at: 1830 South 11th Street, Chesterton, IN 46304 or email them to: drarnold@SmilesByArnold.com. More information on this or many other dental topics can be found at www.SmilesByArnold.com.