It started as a throbbing pain and turned into an expensive lesson.
When Barbara Whorley moved to Las Vegas in 1997, she left behind not only her friends and support system, but the dentist she had been seeing since she was in her 20s.
The 56-year-old didn’t look into finding a dentist in her new hometown until 2000, when a throbbing began around her left molar.
"I knew I might have a cavity, so I just went to the dentist closest to my house," Whorley said. "I didn’t think twice. I should have."
The new dentist convinced her she needed a crown and extensive X-rays, even though she brought along her X-rays from her old dentist from 3 years earlier.
"I got into quite a round of expensive treatments before I realized I needed to ask more questions," Whorley said.
She learned what many don’t, that the relationship between you and your dentist is a shared responsibility.
The American Dental Association stresses that you should visit a few dentists before choosing just one to build a long-term relationship with, but look to your family and friends to begin your search. A family doctor or current dentist if you are moving to a new state can also be helpful to find a trustworthy dentist to suit your needs.
Local dentists agree that you should do your homework before settling into the chair.
"Word of mouth," said Dr. Scott Miller, DDS. "That’s the best advertising. People are honest, so ask around."
And don’t be afraid to ask questions, as many as you like. After all, you will be living w ith the results 24/7.
"You really have to be involved," Miller said. "The days where dentists are right out honest with you are in the past."
The ADA also provides a list of local and state dental societies on their web site, www.ada.org, a tool Miller said is better than any 1-800 television ads that offer to find a dentist or the local phone book pages.
"Dentists pay for those services (ads), so they are recommending only those that have paid," Miller said. "Anyone can advertise."
A good sign of a good dentist, he said, may sound a bit old-fashioned.
"A dentist should never be too busy to talk, either he or his staff, and answer questions at length," Miller said. "You should be greeted properly."
A good dentist will also have a key addition to his staff.
"Make sure they employ a hygienist," Miller said. "Some (dentists) don’t because a hygienist is well paid."
If they don’t have a hygienist, that usually means the dentist isn’t that busy or doesn’t want to pay for it, he added.
"In dentistry we are trained to clean teeth, but not in depth like a hygienist," Miller said. "They are trained really well, and a good teeth cleaning is important."
Also look at the technology and techniques. Are they up to date?
"They should be putting money back in to the office, into the business," Miller said.
A big red flag is if the dentist prefers to quickly do crowns over fillings, which is where the money is.
"A crown can be pretty aggressive…contour the tooth, take an optical image…where as a filling is just a portion of the tooth replaced," he said, meaning that there is less work and therefore less to charge.
Be sure your dentist buys locally or know where they are getting what they are putting in your mouth.
"Some (dentists) have crowns for around $600, but be leery of those because they may outsource to other countries, such as China, for lab work and you don’t know what material those crowns are made of," he said. "If it’s going in your mouth you should know what it is."
If for some reason you don’t feel comfortable, don’t feel obligated to keep going back.
"If you feel rushed to make a decision, that’s another red flag," Miller said.
Second opinions should also be accepted, and desired, by your primary dentist. Patients who call Miller for a second opinion often are not charged, depending on the length of research and work required, he said.
"Second opinions are really good (for the patient), especially the more complicated the procedure," Miller said.
Jaleh Pourhamidi, DMD, MDSC., Associate Professor and Director of Student Affairs at University of Southern Nevada, second’s the importance of a second opinion.
"Anybody that does not want to discuss your treatm ent options in detail is a (questionable)," Pourhamidi said. "If you want to be more conservative and save money there should be a way. They should feel comfortable with discussing those findings with other professionals as well."
Dentists covered by the HIPAA privacy rule are required to provide patients with a copy of their records.
Pourhamidi recommends that you check your dentist’s credentials as well as their equipment, which can actually benefit your wallet.
"Make sure they are up on technology because the field of dentistry is continually changing," she said. "There are so many ways to save teeth or replace teeth that in the long run may save you money versus going with the old techniques."
But the best way to save money at the dentist is to get regular check ups and cleanings, Olya Banchick, DDS of Banchik Dentistry said.
"If people haven’t had a good cleaning, their gums can be inflamed, bacteria build up and they get what is known as periodontal disease," she said, which can lead to serious, and expensive complications. "Cavities don’t fill themselves. It will cost you a lot more in money and time to just let them go."