Written by the Dental Fear Central Web Team
Last updated on August 1, 2020
How to find a dentist for nervous patients
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.
However, you don’t need 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 (e.g. The Wand or IV sedation), make sure that the dentist you’re considering offers it.
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
Here are some people (and places) you can ask:
- Friends, colleagues, acquaintances or relatives. If asking around seems too scary or too embarrassing, you may be able to get someone else to do the asking around on your behalf.
- 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, and click on “More places” at the bottom of the box for even more listings and reviews.
- Check out the Dentist Listings and Reviews on our forum.
- Do a Google search for ‘anxious patient dentist x town’ or ‘nervous patient dentist x town’, or similar.
- 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.
- 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, emailing or facebooking 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 know which dentists are technically very good!
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 other dentists to provide hands-on care for their patients. 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 standard clichés about dental anxiety, but don’t say how else they would help anxious patients – which means they might not be offering much beyond sedation)
- Does the website have photos of the dentist(s)? Do they look easy to talk to or intimidating? 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?
- Look at their bio – do they give details of their training/dental interests? Giving such details often suggests a genuine passion for dentistry.
- Words like “preventive dental care”, “minimally invasive”, “minimal intervention”, “family dental care”, “high quality care” and “gentle care” are usually good signs.
- Also look out for practices which offer new patient-friendly technologies such as The Wand, Vibraject, digital impressions (iTero, CEREC) or similar (the latter can be useful if you’re prone to gagging).
- If you can’t find anyone near you who fits the bill, consider looking in nearby towns.
3. Who is your “ideal” dentist?
A lot of people with a fear of the dentist 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, a male or a female, and so on. There is no one dentist who is a perfect fit for everyone.
There may also be physical attributes which are absolute no-no’s, perhaps because they would remind you of previous bad experiences (dental or otherwise).
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 telephone and having to explain your situation to a receptionist.
I would state that you are anxious about/afraid of 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/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 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 very 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 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. It helps to go in and not worry about doing any treatment but just to meet and see if you can work with them and how you connect. – from our message boards
- Some people 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 come in for a look around and to meet the dentist before you actually come for an appointment. Is the atmosphere warm and welcoming? Are the people who work there cheerful and happy? Do the treatment rooms allow 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.
Additional qualifications often mean that a dentist is passionate about dentistry, and is keeping up with the latest developments and techniques.
Look out for letters such as MFGDP behind their name, any training they’ve done (Tipton training is good, and Tatum Institute for implants), or any specialist registers they’re on (e.g. specialist in prosthodontics).
In the UK, it’s very common for dentists who are specialists (e.g. prosthodontists, endodontists, periodontists) to also practice general dentistry.
As there are many different qualifications, you may want to consult Google to find out what the extra letters behind their name stand for.
We have collected some other tips which can help you identify if a dentist does quality work:
The page above also tells you which dentists to avoid!
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 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 on the General Dental Council’s (GDC) website if a dentist is registered to practice. Past editions of the GDC Gazette, which can be downloaded as PDF files from their website, give details of past actions against dentists which came before the GDC.
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:
Dental Fear Central’s Dentist Finder Our very own find-a-dentist database. Don’t forgot to add your recommendations!