More tips (and some red flags)

  • 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 up with 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.
  • 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.
  • Some dentists pretend they are interested in helping nervous patients because they think there’s lots of money to be made from them. An emphasis on sedation in combination with smile makeovers and dental implants can sometimes be a bad sign.
  • In the UK, it’s fairly common for dentists who are specialists 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.
  • 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?

You should also check that the dentists on your shortlist are actually licensed to practice dentistry – one can never be too careful:

How to check a dentist’s license to practice

Red Flags

Beware of “holistic” dentists: what “holistic” usually means is amalgam-free and often, and in many countries, 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 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

Corporate Chains: Avoid large dental chains, especially in the US. 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).

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.