What Are Dental Records?
Every patient within a dental practice has a file that contains his individual treatment history, from cavities filled to his most recent cleaning. This helps keep the office organized, and often these records hold useful information that can come in handy for a patient’s future procedures. Your files may appear to be top secret, but the patient has every right to view his dental history. Here, Dr. John Benedetto, of Wrigleyville Dental in Chicago, explains how dental records are kept and what your rights are to accessing them.
What’s In Your File?
The short answer is, everything. A good dentist will log every conversation that he has with a patient, in an abbreviated form, in that patient’s dental record. If you call and cancel an appointment or change an appointment, it will be noted in your records. If you ask a question about a procedure, it will be recorded in your file. Details on any procedure that is performed, such as the anesthetic used, the type of procedure, the cost and the person who oversaw it, will also be recorded in your dental records. Anything that is done in the office is also recorded, whether the dentist diagnosed a particular issue or talked to patient about a concern. A condensed form of each conversation and question should be contained in your file, so if it comes up again in the future the background information is easily accessed.
Viewing Your Records
It is the patient’s right to have a copy of his records, but the office will retain the originals. The same applies to X-rays — the patient is not allowed to remove the original X-rays from the office, but he is entitled to a copy (the dentist may change a nominal fee for this service).
Taking Your Records With You
If you are switching dentists, you may think that you will need to move your records with you. However, this is typically not the case. Most of the time, the new dentist will not even look at your prior records, unless you are undergoing ongoing treatment and have a complicated issue, or if you have a fairly serious problem such as gum disease and your new dentist wants to see what has been done. In cases like these, the new dentist may want some old information from your previous dentist. But every dentist should want to take his own information, because he does not want to be dependent and responsible for another dentist’s work (keep in mind that X-rays are deemed useless after 6 months, so be sure that your new dentist takes his own set of X-rays). If something in your X-rays looks funny, or if you have a complaint or something is wrong, he may want to go back forensically and see what the issue looked like six months ago. In this case, he may choose to call previous dentist and ask for an X-ray or information on what transpired during your prior treatment.
*Disclaimer: The information on this website is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your healthcare provider. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with an appropriate healthcare provider.