Written by the Dental Fear Central Web Team
Last updated on June 23, 2020
How to find a dentist for phobics
Finding the right dentist is perhaps THE most important thing when trying to overcome dental phobia or dental fears. Not all dentists have the personality, time or interest to work with people who are nervous 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 specialty. 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.
- See if the dental practices you are interested in have a facebook page with reviews.
- 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 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 and increasingly their own Facebook pages and even Twitter feeds (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 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?
- Look at their bio – do they give details of their training/dental interests? Giving such details often suggests a genuine passion for dentistry. In the UK, look out for letters such as MFGDP behind their name, 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).
- 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 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.
- 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 very common for dentists who are specialists (e.g. prosthodontists, endodontists, periodontists) to also practice general dentistry. Additional training can be a good indicator that someone is passionate about their profession.
- 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.
- Check that the dentists on your shortlist are actually licensed to practice dentistry – one can never be too careful: Check a dentist’s license to practice
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. 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.
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, of course, there are many ethical NHS dentists out there, it is more difficult to obtain good care compared to the private sector, and undertreatment can be a problem. You can find out why this has happened here.
How to find an NHS Dentist
If you can afford it, we would recommend paying for private treatment (especially in England and Wales – for a more detailed explanation, see here). But financially this may not be an option. The following FAQ explain your rights as an NHS patient, costs, etc.: Dental treatment on the NHS – Frequently Asked Questions
NHS England – Find a Dentist: You can search for NHS dentists in England here, and see who accepts new NHS patients. You can also rate dental practices. Alternatively, ring or email the NHS local area team for your region – they should be able to let you know which NHS dentists are taking on new patients in your area.
NHS Scotland Dental Helplines Google for your local dental helpline in Scotland (for NHS dentists). We’ve had reports that they are very helpful when you make it clear that you’re looking for a dentist who is good with very nervous or phobic people, so do give them a call.
NHS Dentist Search Wales Search for NHS dentists in Wales.
Community Dental Service
In many areas of the UK, the community dental service caters not only to people with disabilities, but also to people with dental phobia. Find out more here: Special Needs Dentistry
Dental Fear Central’s Dentist Finder Our very own find-a-dentist database. Please don’t forgot to add your recommendations!