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How to find a dentist in Canada

By hellodent editorial team

Last updated: April 05, 2024

Posted Apr 5th, 2024 in General Dentistry, Receiving dental services

Quick Answer

Choosing the right dentist is an important decision likely influenced by factors such as where you live or work, your age and the age of any dependants or family members, specific services required and current dental and medical health. Spending time identifying your needs will help you locate a good dentist locally more quickly.

Canadian dentists must have an undergraduate degree before completing a minimum four-year University dental program. They graduate with either a BDS, DDS, or DMD degree and are certified to practice general dentistry. Each province establishes its own licensure requirements. Dentists must be licensed by a province or territorial regulatory body to practice.

In this post, we discuss how to choose a dentist in Canada, look at different factors to consider and where to find the correct information to help you make a more informed choice.

What are your dental health needs?

Assessing your dental health needs

Before you begin searching, create a checklist summarizing any specific dental needs. Creating a list will help you focus more clearly on your requirements, helping to narrow your search later when you begin to investigate dentists and dental clinics. Points to consider could include the following:

  • Distance of the dental clinic from home or work.
  • Age of family members requiring dental care, for example, children’s dentistry.
  • Languages spoken.
  • The need or desire for specific dental services like cosmetic dentistry, dental implants, or treatment for sleep apnea, etc.
  • Do you require more complicated treatments that should be performed by a specialist? Are you using or requiring the use of government funded or supplemented dental care programs for yourself or any dependants.

Do you need a dental specialist?

Most dentists are general dentists, providing a range of family-oriented services. A general dentist offers the services most frequently needed. These include dental checkups and hygiene treatments, tooth extractions, and preventive dentistry, such as professional fluoride applications and restorative dentistry. Restorative dental services include fillings, root canal therapy, crowns, and bridges.

A general dentist can diagnose and treat common conditions, but when a patient requires a service beyond their scope of practice, they will refer them to a dental specialist. In most instances, a patient may also contact a dental specialist directly without needing a referral. According to the Canadian Dental Association, there are nine nationally recognized dental specialties in Canada. All educational programs for these specialties are accredited by the Commision on Dental Accreditation of Canada (CDAC) to ensure they meet national standards. A brief overview of each specialty is below.

1. Endodontics

An endodontist has completed an advanced education program in treating the inside of a tooth. These structures include the dental pulp and root canals. Your dentist may refer you to this specialist if you require root canal therapy or have an injured or diseased dental pulp.

2. Pediatric dentistry

A pediatric dentist has advanced training in providing dentistry for infants and children through adolescence. They provide preventive and therapeutic dental care for children and also treat patients with special needs.

3. Prosthodontics

A prosthodontist has advanced training in diagnosing, restoring and maintaining oral function. They restore or replace natural or missing teeth with dental appliances, including crowns, bridges, and dentures.

4. Periodontics

A periodontist has advanced training in diagnosing, preventing and treating conditions and diseases affecting the tissues supporting teeth. These include the gum and bone surrounding your teeth. You may be referred to a periodontist if you have advanced gum disease.

5. Orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics

An orthodontist has advanced training in diagnosing, preventing or correcting misalignments affecting teeth and jawbones. They can provide appliances to guide jawbone growth in children and fixed and removable braces to reposition teeth in children and adults.

6. Oral and maxillofacial surgery

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons have advanced training in diagnosing and treating defects, diseases and injuries affecting the soft and hard tissues of the head, neck and jaws. They specialize in oral surgery, and you may be referred to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon if you require a difficult wisdom tooth removal or need dental implants.

7. Dental public health

Public health dentists have completed an advanced education program in diagnosing, preventing and controlling dental diseases. They also help to promote oral health education in local communities.

8. Oral and maxillofacial radiology

An oral and maxillofacial radiologist has advanced training in prescribing, producing and interpreting diagnostic images. These images and interpretations are used to diagnose and manage disorders and diseases affecting the head.

9. Oral medicine and pathology

This field of dentistry is concerned with diagnosing and managing oral, maxillofacial and temporomandibular (conditions affecting the jaw joints) diseases and disorders that are primarily non-surgical.

There are two components to this dental specialty. A specialist in oral medicine has completed advanced training in this area. A dental specialist in oral pathology has completed advanced training in this area. A dental specialist in oral medicine and pathology has completed advanced training in both areas.

All dental specialists will hold a specialty designation from their Provincial Dental Regulatory Authority.

Considerations when choosing a dentist

Choosing a dentist is a highly personal process, but some factors affect most or everyone. These include the following.

Credentials and experience

Dentistry is well-regulated in Canada, but it is always worth checking your dentist’s education, experience, and commitment to continuing professional development. Some dentists belong to study clubs or teach other dentists. Provincial associations have a public database listing dentists practicing within the province that also identifies whether they have had complaints lodged against them. In most provinces, patients can look up their dentist and confirm they are in good standing before booking an appointment. A list of regulatory bodies and their websites is available here.

Location and office hours

It is easier to schedule appointments with a dental clinic that offers convenient office hours. Look for somewhere offering late-night or early-morning appointments if you are limited on time. Choosing a dental clinic closer to home or work can make it easier to attend scheduled appointments, so you may be less likely to delay regular preventive dentistry. If you rely on public transport, choose a practice with good links. If you drive, check that there is plenty of parking nearby.

Services offered

Some general dental clinics will provide a range of general, preventive and restorative dental services and refer patients requiring more specialized dental care.

If you are likely to require more specialized services regularly, you may wish to choose a dental practice with dental specialists on their team, for example, a pediatric dentist or a clinic with a general dentist who has extensive experience in a certain focus area.

Emergency care availability

When a dental emergency arises, promptly contacting a dentist is essential. A dental clinic can provide advice over the phone and schedule an emergency appointment. Check your chosen dental clinic has provisions for out-of-hours dental emergencies.

Treatment cost

The dental association for each province or territory is responsible for publishing a dental fee guide annually. Insurers use these guides to determine the percentage of coverage for a particular treatment. Some dentists follow provincial fee guidelines, but others will charge more.

Dentists may set their fees depending on their experience; they might have invested in more expensive technologies or are in a location such as a city where office and staffing costs are higher. If your dentist charges more than the provincial fee guide, the difference may not be covered by your insurance, leading to higher out-of-pocket expenses.

Public insurance program enrollment

Some dentists may not participate in all dental programs, for example, the Canadian Dental Care Plan. If you qualify for these programs, check that the dental clinic is enrolled.

Special needs

Some people have specific and more specialized dental needs and may require a specialist or general dentist who can make the necessary accommodations. Accessibility is another factor, and someone with limited mobility may require a dental office located on one floor with wider doorways and ramps.

Other factors

Other criteria may be important to you, so it is worth spending a moment or two thinking about what matters most. For example, booking appointments online can be important for someone with limited time during office hours.

Dental care fears and phobias are common; some dental practices may take extra steps to help more anxious or nervous patients relax. When dental anxiety is an issue, sedation dentistry is another service that might be helpful.

Where to look for a dentist in Canada

Canadians can use various resources to find a dentist, including the following:

  • Personal recommendations from friends and family. These can provide a good starting point, but their dental needs might differ significantly from yours.
  • Professional recommendations. If you are moving to a different town or city, your current dentist may have suggestions based on their knowledge of the dental community. However, if you are moving out of the area, these suggestions might not be based on knowing the dentist or practice personally.
  • Online research and reviews can provide candid information about dentists and dental clinics, but one person’s perception may not match another’s, and there is no guarantee these reviews are genuine.
  • Provincial dental associations and dental regulatory bodies have directory resources on their websites. These allow you to search for registered dentists in your city or postal code.

Some dental association websites have information on community health programs and community dental clinics. These community and low-cost clinics offer specific dental services to diagnose and treat dental diseases and restore oral health. They can provide preventive dental services such as checkups, hygiene, and fluoride treatments. They will not provide more complex treatments like orthodontics or cosmetic dental services.

Creating a shortlist

Using the resources mentioned above can help you collate a shortlist of local dentists. Most dental clinics have a website that can help narrow your search further. Use these websites to read dentist biographies, discover their clinical interests, and learn about any additional training and dental technologies available at the clinic.

The clinic website will have office hours, a list of services offered and availability of emergency dental services, and sometimes will provide fee and insurance information. Photographs can help you to gain a general impression of the dental clinic.

Scheduling your first dental visit

You may be able to request your first appointment online or prefer to contact the dental practice by phone. Speaking to a dental receptionist can be useful if you have any specific concerns you would like to discuss or want to make them aware of any special needs or anxiety around your visit.

An initial visit will allow you to assess whether your chosen dental clinic is suitable. If so, you can begin to schedule regular visits and arrange for your dental records to be transferred from your previous dentist.

Evaluating your first visit

Before you go, make a list of questions to ask addressing issues important to you, and make a mental note of your first impressions. Potential questions could include:

  • Is booking an appointment easy?
  • Was it easy to get to the clinic?
  • Were you made to feel welcome?
  • Is the clinic clean and well-maintained?
  • Was your appointment on time?
  • Did the dentist listen to you and take the time to answer questions?
  • Were fees explained clearly?

Finding a dentist you feel confident to see regularly is important. There may come a time when you need to discuss oral or medical issues with them, and speaking openly is important. However, if you subsequently feel it isn’t a perfect fit, nothing prevents you from changing dental practices later.

Are there provinces where finding a dentist is more difficult?

The population-to-dentist ratio is not evenly distributed across Canada. The imbalance implies that it is more challenging finding a dentist who meets all your criteria in regions where there are fewer dentists per capita. According to the Canadian Dental Association, Nunavut, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland have the lowest number of dentists per capita. People living in these provinces and territories may need to travel further to access dental care that meets their requirements.

Province Population/dentist ratio
Nunavut 2823
Saskatchewan 2710
Newfoundland and Labrador 2632
New Brunswick 2418
P.E.I. 1954
Manitoba 1916
Alberta 1798
Nova Scotia 1770
Quebec 1628
Canada Avg. 1622
Ontario 1492
British Columbia 1485
Yukon 1407
Northwest Territories 1038


Choosing the right dentist for your and your family’s needs might initially appear to be a challenging task. However, taking a systematic approach and ensuring you use reliable resources will provide a shortlist of suitable dental clinics.

Talking with friends, family and colleagues and identifying your specific requirements can initially narrow down your choice and help you to focus on important factors to consider. Local dental association websites enable you to search for a dentist in your postcode and to check their credentials before you contact the dental clinic.

*The content provided in this article, including text, graphics, and referenced material, is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional dental advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult with your dentist or another qualified oral health professional for questions regarding your dental condition. Never disregard professional dental advice or delay seeking it based on information from this article. If you believe you have a dental emergency, contact your dentist, or seek immediate assistance from an oral healthcare professional.

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