Finding Dentist Data Doesn't Have to Be Like Pulling Teeth

robert.niles@latimes.com

Stressed about visiting the dentist?

Don't be. A quick online check can calm fears about a dentist's basic qualifications.

Start with the California Dental Board's Web site, at http://www.dbc.ca.gov/License.html, to check whether a dentist is licensed to practice in the state.

"The information is more user-accessible now than it was before," said Jeffrey Wall, chief of the Dental Board's enforcement program. "People had to know who we were and how to call to get the information. Now, the information is available 24/7 right there on the Web site."

Click on the Dental License link, located toward the bottom of the page, to search dentists by name or location. The names of licensed dentists will show up on the results screen, along with the dentist's current address and license status. Note that dentists whose licenses are inactive or have been canceled will show up in the search results, along with those whose licenses are active, or "clear."

If there is a "Yes" in the column labeled "Actions?" on the right side of the page, that means the dental board has taken disciplinary action against that dentist. Click on the dentist's name to get more details. The curious will need to contact the dental board offline to get a full report.

Don't stop with the dentist. In most dental offices, hygienists spend the most time in a patient's mouth. License and discipline records for hygienists and dental assistants can be checked online as well.

Unfortunately, the link to that search page is located deep within the California Department of Consumer Affairs Web site at http://www.dca.ca.gov/r_r.

The search uses a form identical to the dentist search and returns results the same way, although these pages don't list addresses.

Patients outside of California can find links to other states' dental boards on the American Assn. of Dental Examiners' Web site, at http://www.aadexam.org/links.htm.

Of course, being licensed is the minimum requirement to practice.

The American Dental Assn. offers an online directory of its more than 100,000 members at http://www.ada.org/public/directory. The ADA's site is useful for finding dentists recognized by the ADA as specialists in one of the association's eight specialty areas, from oral surgery to pediatric dentistry.

Prospective patients can search for a dentist by location, name and specialty. On the results pages, users can click on a dentist's name to get a map of the office location.

The Academy of General Dentistry's Web site offers another option. Dentists who join the AGD are required to complete a set amount of extra, ongoing training each year.

Unfortunately, the AGD's member directory (http://www.agd.org/consumer/consumersearch.html) can be frustrating to use, especially for patients in larger cities. The site returns a random selection of as many as six matches for each search, forcing patients who want to find all academy members in their city to resubmit their search several times to see them all.

Finally, the biggest dental expense many families face is paying for braces. Orthodontists can be found at the American Dental Assn.'s site or at the American Board of Orthodontics' site, at http://www.americanboardortho.com/directory.

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Robert Niles is a producer for Latimes.com.

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