How to find a high-quality dentist

Written by the Dental Fear Central Web Team and reviewed by Lincoln Hirst BDS
Last updated on January 17, 2021

When choosing a dentist you can trust, there are 2 factors to consider:

  • How the dentist treats you as a person
  • The quality of the advice and treatment they provide.

But how do you know if a dentist really cares about the quality of their work? Here is what to look for and expect from a high-quality dentist.

Signs of a good dentist

1. Qualifications

Qualifications are no substitute for experience and enthusiasm. But every little helps, as they say. In the UK, look out for letters behind their name such as MJDF, MFDS or MFGDP, and any specialities or serious further training they’ve done.

Read the bios on their website to find out what they do to keep up-to-date with new techniques.

Qualifications + obvious enthusiasm on the first visit = very good sign

2. No rush

Appointment slots may be longer than in other dental practices. High-quality dentistry is unhurried and takes time. Most NHS dentists are under time constraints. That’s not to say you won’t find someone who is kind, considerate and right for you under an NHS contract, but they may not be able to devote the same time as a dentist who sees you under a private contract.

3. Modern equipment and hygiene

Their treatment room looks modern, tidy and uncluttered. All surfaces and equipment look clean.

4. Loupes

They wear loupes with a headlight while doing work.

Dental loupes with a headlight

Loupes are little binocular things which are used to magnify the area being worked on. This allows dentists to do much more precise work.

5. Informing and explaining

They take the time to explain what is happening in your mouth and why. Importantly, they will clarify things using everyday language – not dental jargon. They may also use an intra-oral camera to actually show you your teeth so you can easily understand what is going on.

The dentist-patient relationship should be one of equals

They explain what the different treatment options are, and the pros and cons of each option. Also, they should be able to let you know how much each option costs.

They are happy to answer any questions you may have. One great question to ask is “What would you do if it was your tooth/mouth?”. Armed with this information, you can go home, have a think, and make an informed decision.

6. Respect

A good dentist will be considerate and thoughtful and take your preferences into account. They will want to work in partnership with you, and there should be no feeling of a power imbalance.

Not only do they respect their patients, but they also respect their assistant or nurse and treat them well.

7. A preventative approach

They’ll give you information and tips on how to look after your teeth and gums. They’ll also show you how to stop any problems from getting worse and coach you in cleaning techniques that will work for you. Some of this may be done by their dental hygienist.

8. Concern about your comfort

They will work out a stop signal with you before any treatment, and will offer you breaks during procedures. They are gentle and thoughtful.

Rest breaks are important

Tip: Try out the stop sign just to see if they really mean it!

9. Referrals to specialists

If they feel that a specialist would be better for a particular treatment, they will offer a referral to a trusted colleague.

10. Follow-up

They will contact you afterwards to see how you’re recovering.


Signs that you may want to find a better dentist

1. They treat their dental assistant or nurse badly.

Young woman crying

2. The treatment room is disorganised or maybe even dirty.

3. The initial appointment is quick and superficial, and you may feel rushed.

Photo of an hourglass - a good dentist won't rush you.

4. They don’t ask about your medical history, allergies etc.

5. They don’t listen to you.

6. They don’t give you treatment options and decide on a course of action without properly involving you.

7. They don’t really explain a procedure and don’t get permission from you before carrying it out.

8. They sigh or look annoyed when you ask questions, or look at their watch.

Woman rolling her eyes

9. They are not concerned about your comfort.

10. They propose to carry out root canal treatment without using a rubber dam.

12. They offer treatments but don’t help you prevent problems. Also, they don’t show you how to stop existing problems from getting worse.

13. You start out with one dentist but then get switched to a different dentist, without a very good reason.

14. They push you into treating lots of things at once, rather than slowly building up your confidence and trust. Unless, of course, you specifically ask them to do things as quickly as possible – for instance, because you’ve got an important event coming up. Occasionally, there can be situations when doing everything at the same time is important for the best-looking results. One example would be matching colours on several front teeth. But your dentist should be able to explain to you why exactly they are suggesting a particular course of action.


Red Flags

Red flags when choosing a dentist

Corporate chains

Avoid large dental chains, especially in the United States. Why? 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. While they’re not plagued by overtreatment like their U.S. equivalents, it’s best to find an independent dentist who owns or is a partner in the practice. They will be motivated to provide continuity of care and preserve their reputation in the community.

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.

Holistic dentists

Beware of holistic dentists: what holistic usually means is amalgam-free and, in some countries, root-canal-free. This equates to getting silver fillings replaced for no good reason and removing teeth which could have been saved.

It’s quackery (check out Quackwatch for more information).

Smile makeovers

Most dentists nowadays offer cosmetic dentistry. This can be a good sign (see our page on cosmetic dentistry). However, some dentists are in the business of selling cosmetic procedures, sometimes without telling people about any of the drawbacks or 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 is not to endanger healthy tooth structure unnecessarily.

LVI dentists (U.S./Canada)

Be careful when websites push cosmetic procedures such as “full-mouth reconstructions” and “complete smile makeovers”. These procedures cost serious money and may not be in your best interest. This phenomenon is a lot more common in the United States than elsewhere and is subject to much debate in the dentistry world.

Perhaps the most notorious example is LVI dentists and “neuromuscular dentistry”. LVI is short for “Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies”. Sounds impressive? We came across the following spoof advert on the forums of a U.S.-based 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.

The bottom line

There are some great dentists out there who take pride in their work and who are also good with nervous patients. Today, thanks to the Internet, finding a good dentist has become easier than ever before.

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