Sensitivity to hot or cold foods and beverages. Pain when biting or chewing. A constant pain or even swelling in the gums or jaw. If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, it may be time to talk with your doctor about your symptoms and about choosing an endodontist to provide the services you might need.
Endodontists are dental specialists who focus on the nerves of teeth. They typically perform root canals and other dental surgery procedures related to the nerves of the tooth. Becoming an endodontist requires two or more additional years of schooling beyond typical dental school. Most endodontists focus exclusively on this area of dentistry in their practice.
Although this level of specialization is great news if you find yourself in the chair in need of a root canal, it does pose a challenge to the many Americans each year who find themselves in need of such a procedure. According to the American Association of Endodontists, general dentists refer about half of their root canal cases to an endodontist. Of course, when only 45% of people surveyed have even heard of a root canal specialist, or endodontist, it’s no surprise that many patients don’t know where to begin!
At Penn Dental Family Practice, we understand that choosing an endodontist may be overwhelming. Although an estimated 22.3 million endodontic procedures are performed annually (based on a 2005-2006 survey), this is probably your first experience looking for the right specialist to perform a root canal or dental nerve related procedure! We want to help make that process a little bit easier by providing the empowering information you need to make the best choice for your endodontic procedure.
One of the best places to start when choosing an endodontist is with your general dentist. He or she can provide recommendations of specialists in your area. However, when it comes down to making the final choice, it is important that you do some of your own research as well.
After you receive a list of recommendations from your general dentist or insurance company, get ready to ask the following questions to each endodontist on your list. You can find some of these answers by simply doing some online research, whether on the specialists’ website or on that of your insurance company. (See how PDFP endodontists stack up to the competition with our quick Comparison Chart.) However, many of these topics are best discussed in person, so it can be helpful to schedule an appointment with two or three of your top choices to get the best answers.
To practice endodontics, a specialist must complete first four years at an accredited dental school, and then two additional years of specialized education at an accredited postdoctoral endodontics program. To successfully complete these programs, candidates not only learn the latest science and technology of endodontics, but they experience hands-on practice in dental clinics, under the supervision of faculty doctors.
Look for a specialist who has completed all of these studies at an American Dental Association-accredited program. Additionally, you may want to ask if each endodontist has diplomate status in the American Board of Endodontics, a separate, voluntary process. According to Advanced Endo-Care, “Becoming a diplomate is an elite status that indicates a high level of dedication to patient care, ethical practices, and continuing education.”
When choosing an endodontist, one of the key features to look for is their use of the latest technology. In particular, the best, most trusted and highly trained doctors will always use a microscope. The American Association of Endodontics highly recommends the use of operating microscopes, which provide intense focused light and high magnification during endodontic procedures.
These microscopes empower endodontists to effectively resolve challenges to treatment which, without the use of the microscope, would be either unrecognizable or untreatable. Understanding and use of these microscopes is now a part of standard endodontic education, so it is important to look for a specialist who continues to incorporate this technology into practice.
Although a root canal is the most common endodontic procedure, and is most likely provided by any endodontic specialist, it may be important for you to find out what other services a doctor may provide. Even if you are still in need of a root canal, other services can help to improve the quality of your experience.
For example, an endodontist who provides emergency services for traumatic injuries may be an important resource. Or, if you have elevated dental anxiety or are in need of in-depth treatment, you should look for a specialist who has sedation options that work for you. If you are looking for treatment for a child, you may want to ask about any training in pediatrics.
Getting an idea of a dentist’s bedside manner may be one of the most important steps to take; however, it is one that must be done in person. Scheduling a brief appointment to meet the endodontist in question and to discuss your treatment needs can be a great opportunity for you to see if your communication styles match this doctor.
Do you feel comfortable with him or her? Does he or she communicate in a way that makes sense to you? Do you feel respected, valued, and supported? All of these factors will differ from person to person, so it is imperative to do your own research on this matter. Even though it takes a little extra time, it will be well worth it.
While discerning the bedside manner and communication styles of your specialist may seem somewhat subjective, your financing options are much more objective. If you are in need of specialized dental services, especially a root canal, you do not want to feel like you have to postpone the procedure due to financial concerns.
So, it is important that you find a doctor who accepts your insurance or offers third-party financing options with which you are comfortable. It is also helpful to seek out a doctor who will give you a clear outline of all of your costs and financial options up front, so you can make the most informed decisions for your oral health and your budget.
One key feature that sets some endodontists apart is their leadership in the dental speciality field. Although some specialists simply practice their craft at a private practice, others are actively involved in advancing the field of endodontics. They may do this through research in the latest tools and techniques. Or, they may serve as faculty at a dental school, helping to education the endodontists of tomorrow. Being treated by such a leader can often mean being treated at a higher level of care than at a standard practice.
Finally, it is important to consider convenience. Look for an endodontist who is accessible to your schedule and location. It is helpful to have a practice nearby your work or home, with accommodating scheduling. As you consider these factors, you may also want to look us some reviews for the specialists you are considering. Do they respect their patients’ time? Or do they often keep patients waiting long past the time of their scheduled appointments?
At Penn Dental Family Practice, these are the seven questions we recommend asking when choosing an endodontist. Do you have other recommendations of what to ask when looking for a specialist of any kind? What questions do you ask to new health care providers? Let us know in the comments section below. We can’t wait to hear from you!