You may have already decided that you want to take the next step and start searching for a caring 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 to work up enough courage. 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 is interested in you as a person, rather than as just another set of teeth. They need to have the necessary people skills and be technically competent in the dental work they do.
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. Of course, if you are 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.
The best way of finding a dentist who’s good with people who are terrified of dentists is word-of-mouth. Which can be a huge 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 common, 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.
- There are many review websites on the internet. The latest big player – you’ve guessed it – is Google. Google now allows people to leave reviews for local businesses including dentists, so check out reviews for practices in your area. 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 starred reviews). You can also try our list of Dentist Reviews websites for suggestions.
- Social media/internet forums for your local area. Regardless of what the group is about, you can ask for help in finding a dentist – don’t forget to mention that the dentist needs to be really good with a nervous patient. Locally focussed groups (including Facebook) can be useful for this – at the very least it will likely provide useful feedback on how others perceive the nearby dental practices. A pattern will likely emerge: some people will complain about costs, while others will more usefully state what they like about the actual dentist.
- Check out the Dentist Listings and Reviews on our forum.
- 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.
Once you have received some suggestions, it is time to take a closer look at their websites.
Making Sense of Dentist Websites
Most dentists or dental practices nowadays have their own websites and increasingly their own Facebook pages and even Twitter feeds. You can find them directly via a Google search such as ‘anxious patient dentist x town’ or ‘nervous patient dentist x town’, or via review sites. When they are done well, they can be a great source of information. Unfortunately, there are also many cookie-cutter, generic sites out there, with stock photos of serious-faced young attractive models wearing white medical coats which don’t actually depict the dentist in question and a standard text (and even standard testimonials!). Also, many practices are being bought up by chains, and they use a generic text for all their practices, rather than for individual dentists (corporate dental chains, especially larger ones, are usually best avoided).
But often, 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, 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 real 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? 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 testimonials or even video testimonials from patients, and if you search for the dental practice in Google, it will usually come up with a Google reviews section which is well worth reading (although not all reviews, positive as well as negative, are always genuine).
- Do they offer what you want? (e. g. if you are very needle-phobic, you may want to search for a dental practice that offers The Wand)
- If you know you will likely need extensive treatment, scrutinise the bio details of their training/dental interests. You may want to choose a general dentist with additional qualifications, or extra training in a specific area you think you might benefit from such as endodontics (saving badly decayed teeth with root canal treatment) or periodontics (treating gum problems) or prosthodontics (replacing missing teeth). You could also search on an appropriate professional website such as these from the UK:
- In the UK, it’s fairly common for dentists who specialise in one of the disciplines above to also practice general dentistry. Endodontists in particular tend to be skilled at calming nervous patients (because root canals have such a bad reputation, new patients coming through the door usually expect the worst – so a good chairside manner is essential). They also rely heavily on a steady hand and good hand-eye coordination, and are very used to dealing with hard-to-numb teeth. You can use the British Endodontic Society’s Consultant Search above.
- Coming to think of it, additional qualifications are a useful indicator that the dentist in question has a genuine interest in dentistry and values improving their skills and/or keeping on top of the latest developments and techniques. As there are many different qualifications, you may want to consult Google to find out what the extra letters behind their name stand for.
- Words like “preventive dental care”, “minimally invasive”, “family dental care”, “high quality care” 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 (iTero, CEREC) and the like. Even if they can’t be used in your particular situation, 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”. Indeed many an ethical dentist will talk you out of unnecessary cosmetics, even if you think as middle age approaches you might like some! The key thing is to not endanger healthy tooth structure unnecessarily, as it is irreversible.
- If you still cannot identify anyone in your immediate vicinity who might fit the bill, consider looking further afield, for example in nearby towns (make sure they’re not too difficult to get to if you’re using public transport).
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:
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 should be used in addition to having a good relationship with your dentist, not as a replacement. You can find out more here: Ways of Tackling Dental Fears
Over the last decade, Corporate Chain practices have become much more common in the UK as well. Generally speaking it is best to find an independent dentist who owns or is a partner in the practice and who then has a stake in providing continuity of care and preserving his/her reputation in the locality. It is arguably easier to take action against a rogue dentist in the UK though, as they are all regulated by the General Dental Council which can and does strike dentists from the Register.
Corporate chains have become ubiquitous in most English-speaking countries, and you will find many good dentists who continue to work at the same practice after it’s been bought up by a corporate, so you needn’t discount a particular dentist for this reason alone. However, it is also important to make sure your chosen dentist is likely to stay working at the practice for some time as continuity of care is important. As an anxious patient, once you have found a dentist you like and trust, you will want to stick with them. Dentists are more likely to move on if they are working for a chain, so keep this in mind.
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 US than in the UK, 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 UK. Although there are good and ethical NHS dentists out there, it is more difficult to obtain good care compared to the private sector, and under treatment can be a problem. 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.
- Send an e-mail to the most promising dentists/dental practices:
“Writing an e-mail 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 keep the e-mail short and to the point stating 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 may also want to have a look at some of the materials in our downloads section to help you with identifying your fears and ideas for making things more comfortable for you.
- Some people prefer calling practices on the phone, or dropping by and speaking to the staff (and maybe even the dentists) in person. Be open about your concerns – it’s only by sharing them that you can obtain the support that you need. You may want to take a friend along for moral support and to ask any questions on your behalf.
- If at all possible, visit the practices on your shortlist. You can go on the pretext of getting a practice leaflet. Actually, getting a 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 (although many practices nowadays do publish them on their website). 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). Some dental practices encourage people to come in for a look around and to meet the dentist before you actually come for an appointment.
- 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? Do the treatment rooms allow a sense of privacy, and do you feel ok to you? Layout and design are important in helping to reduce stress.
- 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!
- 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.