You may have already decided that you want to take the next step and start searching for a caring sympathetic dentist who is right for you. If so, great! Read straight on…
But for most people, the decision to start searching for a dentist is not an easy one at all. It may take you many weeks, months or years. Even if you already have a dentist in mind – someone you have heard good things about – it can be very difficult to actually take the plunge and make an appointment. Read more about this on our Making Up Your Mind page!
How to Find the Right Dentist
There are plenty of caring, gentle dentists around who are good with very nervous people. The only problem is finding them…
Not all dentists have the personality or time or interest to work with people who are fearful. You’ll want someone who has a holistic outlook on people (not to be confused with “holistic dentistry” – see warning below!) – someone who is interested in you as a person, rather than as just another set of teeth. They also need to have the necessary people skills.
It is not necessary to look for a dentist who is a “phobia expert”. Firstly, there is no dental phobia specialty. Secondly, personality is the most crucial variable. Some dentists just have a “knack” for putting people at ease.
The best way of finding a dentist who’s good with people who are terrified of dentists is word-of-mouth. Which is a bit of a problem if you suffer with dental phobia, because you may be too embarrassed to ask around. Don’t be! You’d be surprised at how understanding most people are. Dental anxiety is extremely wide-spread, and you might even happen upon an ex-dental phobic who can recommend a dentist. Here are some people (and places) you can ask:
- Friends, colleagues, acquaintances or relatives whom you believe to be empathetic people. If they’re lukewarm about their own dentists, or if they say “everyone hates going to the dentist”, it’s time to ask around elsewhere.
- If asking around seems too scary or too embarrassing, you may be able to get someone else to do the asking around for you and see if someone in their circle of friends can recommend a dentist. You could also ask a friend to make some phone calls to dental practices/offices to ask around which dentists are good at treating nervous patients, or go around the actual dental practices to get more info.
- Your GP’s practice. Explain the problem to the receptionist. Receptionists can be great people for information. They may be able to recommend someone, or else your doctor might know of a dentist who’s great with people who are scared of dentists. People who have found a great dentist are usually very enthusiastic about them. Ask questions – get as detailed a description of the dentist and their practice as possible. Having said that, some GPs are anything but sympathetic, so this is may only a runner if you do have a GP you like.
- Internet forums for your local area. Regardless of what the group is about, you can ask for help in finding a dentist for someone who is extremely scared.
- Check out the Dentist Reviews and Recommendations on our forum (please be aware that we don’t “approve” the dentists that are recommended, and that the opinions posted there are personal opinions). If a number of people recommend the same dentist, then this is generally a very good sign! Be aware though that some reviews may be fake – if a number of reviewers have made their first and only post to leave a recommendation, then the reviews may have been “planted”.
- There are many review websites on the internet – try our list of Dentist Reviews websites for suggestions.
- In the U.S., dentists tend to refer patients to specialists much more frequently than in other countries. You can use this to your advantage by ringing specialists in your area, such as oral surgeons, periodontists (specialists for gum problems), or endodontists (specialists for root canal treatment), telling them you’ve recently moved to the area and that you’re looking for a dentist. Ask them which dentists they would recommend. Because they look into patients’ mouths all day long and know who their dentist is, they’ll have a very good idea of which dentists are technically very good! They may also have had dealings with the dentists who refer to them and have a fair idea of what their personality is like.
Making Sense of Dentist Websites
Many dentists or dental practices nowadays have their own websites. You can find them directly via a Google search, or via sites like www.yell.com (in the U.K.). When they are done well, they can be a great source of information. Unfortunately, there are also some cookie-cutter, generic sites out there, with photos which don’t actually depict the dentist in question and a standard text (and even standard testimonials!). These are becoming increasingly rare though.
Most of the time, you can get some good clues from the website as to what the dentist’s or dental practice’s philosophy is:
- Do they state that they have an interest in treating nervous or anxious patients?
- Do they state how they help nervous patients? (a lot of websites state they offer sedation but don’t say how else they would help anxious patients – which means they might not be offering much beyond sedation)
- Do they offer what you want? (e. g. if you are needle-phobic, you may want to search for a dental practice that offers The Wand)
- Does the website have photos of the dentist / the dentists? Do you like their looks (quite an important one this – despite beauty being only skin deep)? Do they look cheerful or serious or grumpy? Do they look easy to talk to or intimidating? Do they look genuine, or do they have a fake smile? Do you think you might like them if you met them in person?
- Words like “preventive dental care”, “minimally invasive” and “gentle care” are usually good signs!
- In the UK there’s the well-monitored BDA (British Dental Association) Good Practice scheme. These tend to be safe choices: Search for a BDA Good Practice member practice near you
- Also look out for practices which offer new patient-friendly technologies such as the Wand, Vibraject, digital impressions and the like. Even if they can’t be used in your particular case, you’ll have a higher-than-average chance of finding a phobic-friendly dentist there.
- It can also be a good sign if the dentist is a vocational trainer (i. e. a dentist who trains newbie dentists), as they may be the more nurturing types.
- Most dentists nowadays offer “cosmetic dentistry” on their website. This can be a good sign (see our page on cosmetic dentistry). However, some dentists are definitely in the business of “selling” cosmetic procedures, sometimes without telling people about drawbacks and risks. Make sure the emphasis of the website isn’t on “smile makeovers”.
Is the dentist registered?
You should also check that the dentists on your shortlist are actually licensed to practice dentistry – one can never be too careful:
Beware of “holistic” dentists: what “holistic” usually means is amalgam- and root-canal-free (which equates to getting silver fillings replaced for no apparent reason and removing teeth which could have been saved). It’s quackery (check out Quackwatch for more information).
Be careful when websites state that they have “the” solution for dental anxiety, and “the” solution is sedation dentistry (or twilight sleep, or sleep dentistry). Sedation on its own won’t help with overcoming dental fears. It should be used in addition to good communication and psychological techniques, not as a replacement. You can find out more here: Ways of Tackling Dental Fears
If you are in the U.S.A., avoid large dental chains. The dentists there have to work to meet a quota, and these chains don’t have the best interests of either dentists or patients at heart. If you do a Google search for chains like Aspen Dental or Allcare Dental, you will find a lot of dissatisfied patients (and disillusioned dentists).
Be careful when websites “push” cosmetic procedures and place their emphasis on “full-mouth reconstruction” and “complete smile makeovers”. These procedures cost serious money and they may not be in your best interest. This phenomenon is a lot more common in the U.S. than in the U.K., and is subject to much debate in the dentistry world. We came across the following spoof advert on the forums of a website called DentalTown:
“Have you seen an LVI dentist lately and been told you need your bite opened by crowning all your teeth and that it will cost you over $50 thousand dollars? Did you know that LVI dentists use an aggressive and controversial philosophy of treating people called neuromuscular dentistry which oftentimes requires what others in the dental profession consider to be extreme overtreatment bordering on malpractice? Surprised? You deserve less. You deserve a doctor who will meet your cosmetic needs in the most conservative manner possible.”
The spoof ad above was written by a dentist as a reaction to a real ad from a group of LVI dentists, which went:
“When it comes to improving your smile, you’re allowed to be choosy. Choose wisely. Cosmetic dentists are not created equally. Surprised? It’s true. In fact, any dentist can say that he or she offers cosmetic dentistry without ever taking one course. You deserve more. You deserve a doctor with advanced training from the prestigious Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies like those on our list.”
You can take from this what you like…
The exact opposite problem can happen if you are looking for an NHS dentist in the U.K. Undertreatment has unfortunately become rife, and although there are good and ethical NHS dentists out there, it is more difficult to obtain good care compared to the private sector. You can find out why this has happened here.
Who is your “ideal” dentist?
A lot of people with dental phobias have specific preferences when it comes to their “ideal dentist’s” gender, personality, looks and so on. For example, you may prefer someone who’s laid-back with a sense of humour or someone more serious, someone who is particularly calm and gentle, and so on. There is no one dentist who is a perfect fit for every patient.
There may also be physical attributes which are absolute no-no’s, perhaps because they would remind you of previous bad experiences.
If you have any particular preferences, for example for a male or a female dentist, take these into account when making your selection.
- Make a shortlist of potential dentists and then e-mail or call some practices yourself, to see which one feels right for you. Be open about your concerns – it’s only by sharing them that you can obtain the support that you need. If you cannot call, for example because you are too shy or because of social phobia, get someone else to call and listen to the call on the loudspeaker.
- You may want to e-mail (or even snail mail) potential dentists before ever meeting them for a chat. Some websites openly encourage this, others don’t. You can always try though. Especially if you don’t have a personal recommendation for a dentist, it’s a good idea to check them out a bit before making an appointment with them.
- Don’t ask them if they deal with phobic patients, but how they deal with phobic patients! If you’ve decided to e-mail one or more dentists, explain what your fears are and ask if and how they might be able to help you. See if you like their answers, and what the general “feel” of their reply is.
- You may not always be able to get hold of the dentist themselves. Explain your situation to the receptionist, and ask if the dentist at the practice is good with extremely nervous/terrified patients. If there is more than one dentist at the practice, ask which one they would recommend. Ask them to describe the dentist to you – their personality or anything else you’d like to know. Also ask if they’ve tried out the dentist themselves and what they think. If the receptionist tells you to get lost (in not so many words), the practice isn’t for you – more often than not, the attitude of staff members reflects the ethos of a place. Try another place!
- If at all possible, VISIT the practices or offices – don’t just phone or e-mail. Go on the pretext of getting a practice leaflet. Actually, getting a practice leaflet is a very good idea, anyway, if you’re thinking of private treatment. You can usually get a price list and get some idea how practices compare in terms of costs. Bring a friend if it’s too spooky to do this on your own, or send someone else out (although that way, you won’t get a first-hand impression of the place).
- Assess the helpfulness of the staff and the level of the facilities. Is the atmosphere warm and welcoming? Are the people who work there cheerful and happy?
- Only book an initial appointment when you find a place you are happy with.
- When booking the initial appointment, make it clear that you want to come in just for a chat with the dentist!
More about Making Contact
- Bear in mind that e-mail isn’t always a reliable means of contacting a dentist – e-mails may get lost, accidentally deleted, or end up in the spam folder by mistake. If you don’t hear back, try again or see if there is another e-mail address that you could try.
- Picking up the phone and actually making an appointment can be the hardest part by far. Some people find it helpful to “practice” making the call by calling the dental practice or office out-of-hours, when you’re sure that nobody (except perhaps for the answering machine) will pick up the phone.
Find-a-Dentist Resources – also contains information on how to find an NHS dentist
Special Needs – contains information on how to access the community dental service, which in some areas caters to adults with dental phobias and may also provide home visits if you are house-bound.