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My dentist is terrible. How do I find a better one?

The question: If a medical professional I go to is providing substandard care (dentist/optometrist) how can I find a new one that I know is good?

The answer: My husband recently saw a dentist who found four cavities that she recommended having filled. She then booked four separate appointments to do each cavity individually. Like most people, he didn't have time to have this many appointments, wasn't keen to be frozen four separate times and had concern about the cost of this many visits. This seemed excessive, so we asked: Why the need? She was unable to explain the reasoning, apart from it taking too long to fit in more than one cavity per visit. This was not an acceptable solution, so he found an excellent dentist by taking a chance with a new clinic in our neighbourhood. They were able to do it in one visit!

Certain services, such as dental or chiropractic care, optometry, physiotherapy and psychotherapy or counselling services, are not covered by provincial health-care plans. Because these are private services that you are paying for upfront or through insurance coverage, you have the power to decide who you see for your care.

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People are quick to recommend excellent service and quicker to dissuade people if they've had poor service. A strong recommendation from loved ones is a great place to start when looking for a health-care provider. Ask around and find out who your friends and family see for their medical needs. You want to find someone who is competent and trustworthy, so if they've cared for someone you know with good outcomes, there's a strong likelihood you'll also benefit from their services.

The other option is to speak to your family doctor for a recommendation. We often work with other health-care providers in the community, so we may have suggestions for trustworthy and qualified individuals. Also, my patients will often share with me if they have seen an excellent allied health professional like a physiotherapist or psychotherapist. I keep a list of these names in mind for other patients who may need similar help.

A special note on counselling support or psychotherapy: When you're looking for such a personal service, it can require special attention to find a good fit. Fortunately, this is well-recognized by these professionals, and psychotherapy practices often offer an initial "meet and greet" to see if both the patient and the counsellor are comfortable with each other before committing to a long-term therapeutic relationship.

Consider checking out your local schools of dentistry, optometry or physiotherapy. Students, while they are learning, are supervised by fully qualified health professionals. They offer low-cost care that is kept up-to-date within a learning environment. One caveat: You may not see the same practitioner long-term since they will eventually graduate, but you could certainly follow them into their full practice if they remain in your community. With teaching facilities, there can also be longer waits due to the lower cost and high demand.

What if you have specific criteria you're looking for in a health-care provider? Do you need them to speak a foreign language? Do you prefer them to be female? Do you have a specific location in mind? You should check out associated professional websites. Professional associations in each province, such as the Ontario Dental Association, provide search functions and directories to find practitioners in each community. While these sites do not come with specifics as to the quality of care for each provider, they do offer a large selection to choose from.

Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe is the medical director at the Immigrant Womens' Health Centre, works as a staff physician at St. Michael's Hospital in their Family Practice Unit and at Hassle Free Clinic, and established and runs an on-site clinic at Women's Habitat Shelter in Etobicoke.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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