Finding the right dentist is perhaps THE most important thing when trying to overcome a dental phobia or dental fears. Not all dentists have the personality, time or interest required for helping people who are anxious or phobic.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to look for a dentist who is a “phobia expert”. There is no such thing as a dental phobia speciality. Some dentists just have a knack for putting people at ease. Of course, if you’re looking for something in particular that you know you want, make sure that the dentist you’re considering offers it. Examples include The Wand, IV sedation, or digital impressions.
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How to Choose the Right Dentist for You
Daniel Finkelman of The Hague Dental Care has put together this handy video guide for finding a dentist who is good with nervous patients (content warning: contains dental images, including a staged sequence of a dental check-up. If you’d rather not watch this, close your eyes while listening to the content. Alternatively, read the content below the video):
1. Make a list of possible dentists
There are two main ways of finding a dentist: by asking other people or by searching online.
People you can ask:
- Friends, colleagues, acquaintances or relatives. If asking around seems too scary or too embarrassing, you may be able to get a friend or partner to do the asking around on your behalf.
- In the U.S., dentists tend to refer patients to specialists much more often than in other countries. You can ring, email or facebook specialists in your area, such as oral surgeons, periodontists (specialists for gum problems), or endodontists (specialists for root canal treatment). Tell them you’ve recently moved to the area and that you’re looking for a dentist who is good with nervous patients. Because they look into people’s mouths all day long and know who their dentists are, they’ll also know which dentists do nice work.
Online searches you can do:
- There are many review websites on the internet, including Google. Google for your location and dentist, e.g. dentist Manchester. Then watch a little Google map box appear on your screen with a few listings of dental practices underneath. Click on “More places” at the bottom of the box for even more listings and reviews.
- Do a Google search for ‘anxious patients dentist x town’ or ‘nervous patients dentist x town’, or similar.
- Check out the Dentist Listings and Reviews on our forum.
- See if the dental practices you are interested in have a Facebook page with reviews.
- Ask for recommendations online, for example on the Money Saving Expert – Local Forums, or in the Support section of our forum, or on Facebook.
Once you’ve made a list of possible dentists, it’s time to take a closer look at their websites.
2. Making sense of dentist websites
Most dentists or dental practices nowadays have their own websites. Many also have Facebook pages (although social media presence may be absent for smaller yet excellent dental practices). Dentist websites can be a great source of information.
Corporate dentistry and dental chains are usually best avoided. The best option is a private individual working alone or in partnership with a small number of other dentists. For more info, read this thread on our forum: Problems with corporate/chain dentistry
Look out for the following:
- Do they say that they have an interest in helping nervous or anxious patients?
- Do they say how they help nervous patients? A lot of websites mention sedation, along with some standard clichés about dental anxiety. But they don’t say how else they help anxious patients – which means they might not be offering much beyond sedation.
- Does the website have photos of the dentist(s)? Do you think you might like them if you met them in person?
- Does their biography appeal to you or do you have any hobbies in common? One former DFC poster partially chose a dentist because they were both into caravanning!
- Some websites offer genuine written or video testimonials from patients.
- Do they offer what you want?
- Do they give details of their training and dental interests? Giving such details often suggests a genuine passion for dentistry.
- Terms like “preventive dental care”, “minimally invasive”, “minimal intervention”, “family dental care”, “high-quality care” and “gentle care” are usually good signs.
- If you can’t find anyone near you who fits the bill, consider looking in nearby towns.
3. Who is your “ideal” dentist?
Most people have preferences when it comes to their ideal dentist’s gender, looks, personality, and so on. There is no one dentist who is a perfect fit for everyone.
So take your preferences into account when making a shortlist of potential dentists!
4. Making contact
Send an e-mail to the most promising dentists/dental practices:
This allows you to present yourself and your ‘story’ without the stress and anxiety involved with speaking face to face to a dentist. It also avoids the need to phone and having to explain your situation to a receptionist. I would state that you are anxious about dental treatment and that you are looking for a sympathetic dentist for the long-term.
You should also mention what aspects you find particularly difficult when it comes to visiting the dentist and what you think the dentist could maybe do to make the appointment more comfortable or easier for you. Think about what your ideal visit would be like…And then, you wait for a response. If the dentist replies personally, that is a very good sign. Also, look at the content of the answer and whether they have taken your concerns seriously. – Daniel Finkelman, dentist at The Hague Dental Care
You can find a sample email to dentists and a handy patient form that you can send or give to the dentist in our downloads section.
Send a Facebook message via the dental practice’s facebook page:
I’ve met some really nice and caring dentists that way. Three dentists had very nice conversations with me on a weekday evening after office hours, just reassuring and encouraging me to come in and they want to help and they wouldn’t judge, so that was a very non-threatening way to reach out to dentists. They even offered to meet and greet them at no charge. – from our message boards
By phone or in person
You may prefer calling practices on the phone, or dropping in and speaking to the staff (and maybe even the dentists) in person. You may want to take a friend along for moral support.
If possible, visit the practices on your shortlist. Some dental practices even encourage people to have a look around and meet the dentist before you make an appointment. Is the atmosphere warm and welcoming? Are the people who work there cheerful and happy? Do the treatment rooms allow for a sense of privacy?
When booking the initial appointment, make it clear that you want to come in just for a chat with the dentist (if that’s what you want).
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 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 out-of-hours when you’re sure that nobody will pick up the phone.
- If you don’t like speaking on the phone because you’re too nervous, see if you can make an appointment via email. Or send an email asking if you can drop in to informally meet and greet the dentist before making an appointment.
It’s not always easy to tell from other people’s reviews whether a dentist is any good in terms of the advice and treatment they provide. Here are some tips to help you figure out if a dentist does quality work:
It can also be a good sign if the dentist trains newbie dentists, as they may be the more nurturing and people-oriented types.
Is the dentist registered?
Check that the dentists on your shortlist are actually licensed to practice dentistry – one can never be too careful. In the UK, you can check this on the General Dental Council’s (GDC) website.
In the U.S., you can check dentists’ licenses on your state’s Dental Board website.
How to find an NHS Dentist
As a nervous or anxious patient, you’ll want extra time and care. These can sometimes be in short supply in a busy NHS practice. If you can afford private treatment, then realistically, this is often the best option. Alternatively, in many areas of the UK, the Community Dental Service offers help for anxious patients. You can find out more on our page on financing dental treatment:
You may also like:
- How to find a high-quality dentist
- Dental Fear Central’s Dentist Finder – Our very own find-a-dentist database. Don’t forget to add your recommendations!
- Fear of painful injections – How to find a dentist who gives comfortable injections
- Can’t get numb – How to find a dentist who can get you numb when others have failed
- Is dental sedation right for me? – Find out about sedation dentistry
- How far would you travel to see your dentist? – From our support forum