Specialty Referrals

Guidelines for Practice Success | Managing Patients | Policies

Appropriate referrals to other providers are occasionally necessary in order to do what’s best for your patients. Only you can assess whether your education, training, interest, and experience can provide the treatment needed by a particular patient. Cases that require referral to a specialist or another dentist with a specific skill set require clear, open and ongoing communication between providers and with the patient. Maintaining that communication allows you to effectively manage the patient’s overall treatment and general well being, even from a distance.

  • Discuss any proposed referral for treatment with patients right away so they can be active participants in determining their course of treatment.
  • Patients may need to be referred for any number of reasons. Acknowledge and accept that no single provider can do everything.
    • In these cases, your patients need to understand that, while you are a highly-educated, trained and skilled dentist, their care can best be delivered by another dentist with more experience in a specific area. Explain, without going into unnecessary details, why you’re recommending that treatment be done by another provider.
    • Reassure them that this transfer in providers is temporary, that you are still in charge of their care, and will be looking out for them. Soothe their doubts by discussing the education and credentials of the dentist to whom you are referring and let them know that you have complete confidence in the provider’s training and expertise. Let them know you appreciate their trust in you, your professional judgment and treatment, and that you look forward to their return to your practice once this treatment is complete.
    • Be sure to explain: 
      • which area of dentistry or specialty was chosen and why
      • whether they should make the initial appointment with the other dentist or if your staff will assist in making that first connection
      • information about the specialist or consulting dentist’s fee for the consultation or evaluation
      • instructions that will make the patient's introduction to the specialist or consulting dentist a smoother transition. This could include preoperative instructions, educational pamphlets or even a map with directions.
  • Consult the ADA’s General Guidelines for Referring Patients if you have any doubts or concerns regarding how to refer a patient for treatment.
  • Dentists who are new to practice or new to a community may have a limited network of providers to whom they can refer. In those cases, reach out to connections from dental school, mentors, the local dental society, and your own knowledge of widely-respected specialists in individual disciplines to find the right referral.
  • Sometimes dentists receive referred cases, or returned cases, in which it appears the patient has not received proper care. Do not discuss your concerns with the patient. Instead, reach out to the dentist who provided treatment and share your specific concerns in a matter-of-fact, non-accusatory, manner. In some cases, you may want to consider referring the patient to someone else for treatment. Despite any discomfort you might feel, the patient’s oral health and well being always take precedence. You have a responsibility to make that difficult call when you feel one of your patients is not in the best hands.
  • If an insurance carrier (third party payer) requests a second opinion from you regarding another dentist’s diagnosis and treatment plan, which would result in a referral, you should conduct the case review in accordance with the ADA Code of Ethics.
  • Patients who present with complicated medical conditions may need an evaluation from their physician before dental care can be provided.

Additional Resources:    

ADA’s General Guidelines for Referring Patients [PDF]

ADA Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct  

Sample Referral to Dental Specialist Form [PDF]

Sample Referral to Physician-Adult Form [PDF]

Sample Referral to Physician-Child Form [PDF]

Specialty National Organizations Contact Information