Not all dentists have the personality, time or interest to work with people who are nervous or phobic. 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, be non-judgmental, 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 such thing as a 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.
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.
- Ask for recommendations on social media/internet forums for your local area, for example on the Money Saving Expert – Local Forums, in the Support section of our forum, or on Facebook.
- In the UK there’s the well-monitored BDA (British Dental Association) Good Practice scheme. These tend to be safe choices (although of course there are many great dentists who are not members of the scheme): Search for a BDA Good Practice member practice near you
- 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. Ask which dentists they can recommend. 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! 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’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 and increasingly their own Facebook pages and even Twitter feeds. Dentist websites can be a great source of information. Unfortunately, there are also many cookie-cutter sites out there, with stock photos of “dentists” 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 generic text for all their practices, rather than for individual dentists (corporate dental chains, especially larger ones, are usually best avoided).
Look out for the following:
- Do they state that they have an interest in helping nervous or anxious patients?
- Do they state how they help nervous patients? (a lot of websites say 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(s)? Do you like the look of them? 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?
- 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:
- Words like “preventive dental care”, “minimally invasive”, “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). Even if they can’t be used in your particular situation, you may have a higher-than-average chance of finding a phobic-friendly dentist there.
- If you can’t find anyone near you who fits the bill, consider looking in nearby towns (make sure they’re not too difficult to get to if you’re using public transport).
For more tips on finding a competent and phobic-friendly dentist, and how to spot red flags, click here.
3. 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, 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 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.
- 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 board)
- 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, and do they feel OK to you? Layout and design are important!
- 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.
Dental Fear Central’s Dentist Finder Our very own find-a-dentist database. Please don’t forgot to add your recommendations!
How much can I tell my new dentist? – Dentist Fraser Hendrie gives tips on how much you can safely disclose.
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.