Switching Dentists? What to Bring Along from Your Old One

There are several reasons you might be considering a switch to a new dentist. Perhaps you’ve moved away from your old haunt, your beloved dentist of several years has just retired, or you’ve been feeling unsatisfied with the level of care you’re receiving and are ready to make a change.

Whatever the reason behind your decision to switch to a new dentist, the process will remain pretty much the same.

First, you’ll need to identify a quality dentist in your area. We’ve outlined some of the best strategies for finding the right dentist for you in this post.

Next, it’s a good idea to have your dental records transferred from your old dentist to your new one. Your dental records (otherwise known as your “patient’s chart”) provide a written record of your oral care history, including X-rays, diagnostic records, treatment plans, home care instructions, consent forms, and communications between you and your dentist. The way this information is handled is subject to both state and federal laws, so the details vary from state to state.

While your new dentist will still be able to provide you with quality care even without these records (based on their own examinations and intake questions), it’s a good idea to transfer your previous records for several reasons:

  • It allows your new dentist to develop a complete picture of your long-term dental health, which can provide them with invaluable insights as they help you create a personalized oral care routine
  • It helps ensure your dentist has accurate knowledge about any dental procedures you’ve undergone or oral health issues you’ve faced. This information can help your new dentist determine what your risk factors are when it comes to oral health as well as the proper timeline for new treatments. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember all these details when filling out an intake questionnaire. Having hard copies of your records ensure that no detail is left out
  • If you’ve had dental X-rays taken within the past year, then having these images transferred can save you the money it would cost to take new X-rays at your new dentist’s office. (If you haven’t had X-rays for several years, then this point is moot—X-rays are only viable as diagnostic tools if they’ve been taken within the past 12 months)

Now that you understand why it’s so important to transfer your old dental records to a new dental office, it’s time to make it happen. The process can be somewhat lengthy and occasionally frustrating, but the investment in your oral health is worth it. Here’s how to make it happen:

  • Call your new dentist and ask them about two things: the type of information they’d like to receive and the ways in which they’re equipped to receive said records transfers. Many offices are now able to receive records digitally, but this isn’t always the case. Knowing whether your records need to be sent in paper or digital form will save you headaches down the road.
  • Contact your old dental office and inform them that you would like to transfer your records to your new dentist. Let them know whether you would like the records to be sent either digitally or via mail. At this point, your old dentist will most likely require you to sign a release that demonstrates your consent for the records to be transferred. You may also be asked to pay a fee that covers the cost of copies, postage, and mailing supplies involved in transferring the records. (If your records are being sent digitally, you most likely will not need to pay a fee.)
  • Once you’ve informed your old dentist that you want your records to be transferred, you may need to contact your new dentist again and ask them to formally request the records. Ask your old dentist how they need this to be handled.
  • Know your rights. It might sound odd, but technically your dentist’s records of your oral health history belong to the dentist, not you. Nevertheless, federal law stipulates that you have the right to receive copies of your own health information, including summaries of your office visits, diagnostic records, lab results, imaging records, information about any medications you’ve taken, your dentist’s notes about your care, and account and billing information. If you do not receive the records you’ve requested in a timely manner or if your old dentist is refusing to comply with your request, contact your local or state dental society for assistance.

Transferring your old dental records is one of the most valuable things you can do when switching to a new dentist. It’s also important to let your new dentist know about any medications you are currently taking (or have taken in the past), any dental anxieties you may have, and any health conditions you are currently experiencing or have experienced in the past. Taken together, this information will provide your new dentist with a comprehensive overview of your health profile so they can develop the most appropriate and effective oral health plan for you.