I’m often asked for tips on how someone wanting to find a dentist online can differentiate between genuine experts and clever marketing.
First I should point out that almost any dentist can claim to be an expert, or even claim to have expertise in most fields of dentistry. There’s a difference between dentistry and medicine in this regard. Most general dentists can carry out a wide range of procedures, whereas in medicine general practitioners mostly restrict themselves to exactly that – general practice. You don’t see them delivering their patients’ babies, inserting a stent, or removing an appendix. It’s alarming when you realise how many general dentists are having a go themselves at treatments that have traditionally been in the specialist domain.
So here are my tips for what you should be looking out for when finding a dentist or dental specialist online.
- If you’re looking for a dental specialist – like an orthodontist, for example – don’t rely on the search engine to provide you with an authentic list. The list is likely to be littered with general dentists with no specialisation in the field. You have to do your own checks.
- Beware any website of a practice claiming to be experts in a field where they have not clearly listed, on the website, the clinicians’ names and their exact qualifications. “Lifestyle websites”, as they are sometimes called, use positive images and well-crafted words to portray exclusivity, experience and expertise. The only way you can cross-check the specialist registration of a dentist in Melbourne or the rest of Australia is on the official website of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and to do so you will need the full name of the practitioner. Also look out for words like “experience” or “expert”, or a dentist claiming to have a special interest in certain fields. These claims are deceptive and can’t be checked with any regulatory body in Australia.
- It’s not necessarily relevant when a dentist claims to regularly attend post-graduate courses and study groups to stay abreast of advances in dentistry. All dentists in Melbourne and other parts of Australia must undertake a fairly intensive series of such courses just to remain registered as a dentist.
- Associations, societies, academies and institutions are often simple to form and even simpler to join. Therefore, apart from the mainstream Australian Dental Association and a handful of registered specialist associations, membership of many of these may not equate to any measurable expertise in that field.
- Publishing any positive reviews or testimonials within the control of the dentist – for example, on their website, in marketing material, on Facebook and the like – is illegal in Australia. The law is there to protect the public from potentially misleading and deceptive advertising because there’s nothing to prove that the glowing reviews are not posted by the business itself.
- Beware the cheap dentist claiming to be an expert. Experts tend to use the best laboratories, the best materials, the best skilled assistants and the latest technologies. Therefore they cannot match budget dentists on price.
Then there is some basic information you should ask for when you find a dentist and make your first appointment:
- Are you a general dentist or a registered specialist in a particular field?
- List the specific technology that you offer at your practice.
- If I am having laboratory work done – for example, veneers, crowns, implants or dentures – can I meet the skilled technician who will be carrying out the work with their own hands?
- What specific quantifiable experience does the clinician have in the area of dentistry you are needing?