Health: My tooth hurts

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by Maria van Harten

It is your third week at a new job. In fact, it is your first job here in Canada. The pay is all right, the commute is not bad and your coworkers are friendly. You are settling in nicely… until that nagging tenderness in one of those broken back teeth becomes a terrible throbbing ache. You don’t want to ask for the day off so soon after being hired, so you take some painkillers and hope for the best. The pain dies down but you know something has to be done. Your search for a dentist begins.

Word of mouth

The best way to find a dentist is to ask friends and family who they see for their care. If your neighbour likes his family dentist, then he will probably provide you with his dentist’s name and number. Referrals made by “word of mouth” or reputation are the most promising testament to good care and friendly service. Listen to, but try not to be over-influenced by, criticisms about any particular dentist.

Any concerns that you have regarding the conduct or professionalism of a dentist can be directed to the college of dental surgeons in your province. Its role is to protect the public from unethical and bad dentistry.

Other ways to find a dentist

Each province also has its own dental association to which many of its dentists will belong. You can phone your province’s association, provide your postal code, and a secretary will be able to give you a list of dental offices’ phone numbers within a reasonable distance of your work or home. Alternatively, you can also flip through the phonebook or newspaper flyers to find a local dentist. Most dentists are interested in attracting new patients, so you don’t even need to ask. Unlike family doctors, there is no dentist shortage in most urban areas of the country.

What’s the drill?

Once you have picked a dentist, call his office to book an appointment. You will be asked for your name, phone number, and possibly insurance information. What type of appointment would you like to book? Would you like emergency care specifically to address an immediate problem or would you prefer a complete exam to look at everything in your mouth? Mention if you are presently in pain. Ask how much the visit will cost and what payment methods are available to you.

If you want just your present pain dealt with, then only an emergency visit will be booked for you. The dentist will examine the affected area and take x-rays. He or his staff will give you treatment options and their associated costs.

Depending on the nature of your problem and the dentist’s schedule, you may not have anything else done that day. If you are not going for an emergency, it is not unusual to return for actual treatment another day.

If you decide to have your new dentist complete a full exam, you can expect a comprehensive review of your mouth, gums, and teeth. Everyone should if they can afford it.

The dentist will ask about your medical history: any medications you take or have taken in the past, allergies or drug reactions, and previous hospitalizations and illnesses. She will want to hear about earlier dental work, your brushing and flossing regimen, your dietary habits, and present tooth pain. In the end, she will present you with a treatment plan outlining what dental conditions you are afflicted with, the services you require to have a healthier mouth and improved smile, and the cost and time related to those services.

Professional fees are determined by each office individually, however, many use the current year’s suggested fee guide distributed by their provincial dental association (some exceptions apply). For long treatment plans or major work that might seriously hurt your wallet, consider financing your dental care with a low-interest credit card or financing company like Care Credit. Care Credit will allow you to pay off health care expenses for up to 12 months interest-free upon approved credit and prior agreement. The Care Credit application, done by phone or internet at a participating dental office, takes less than 15 minutes to complete and process. If approved, you can begin incurring treatment costs the same day.

When you really can’t afford necessary treatment

Consider becoming a patient at a university or college with a dental or dental hygiene program. The work is excellent and usually costs far less. Be forewarned, however, that since these are teaching clinics and maintain high quality standards: work that might be finished in private practice in three 60-minute appointments may require weekly visits during standard business hours lasting at least 90-minutes apiece for a couple months.

Both the University of Toronto in Toronto and the University of Western Ontario in London are constantly recruiting for their dental schools. Hygiene students from Canadian Institute of Dental Hygiene in Hamilton and George Brown College in downtown Toronto are always looking for teeth to clean. Most dental and dental hygiene schools across the country are accepting new patients and would love to hear from you.

It is also a wonderful way to donate your time to the new community you have chosen to call home and have a healthier smile.

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