How to find a good dentist

By Celia Burns on 8th May 2018

It’s a familiar problem. You are new to an area, and you need to choose a dentist.

Of course we at Nothing But The Tooth would like you to choose us, but you may not live near enough to us to make this a suitable option for you. How do you go about it? Personal recommendations are always good, but if you haven’t yet settled into a new neighbourhood you may not have anyone to ask.

The vast majority of dentists in the UK are ethical, capable practitioners who have their patients’ best interests at heart. However, to reassure you that you have found one of them, here are a few pointers that will help you decide if the place you are looking at is likely to be right for you.

Good Dentists…

…are registered with the Care Quality Commission and the General Dental Council.These are both legal requirements and if your dentist isn’t on the GDC website and the practice isn’t registered with the CQC , they aren’t practising legally.

…are open and honest about their prices and whether they are NHS or Private, or a mixture of both. You should always be given a written estimate of treatment costs for any course of treatment which is suggested to you.

…will take a detailed medical history from you and update it at every new course of treatment. Many dental treatments impact on medical conditions, and vice versa.

…will take regular x-rays of your back teeth if you have them.

…will offer you personalised dental health advice on how to keep your teeth clean and healthy

…will measure your gum attachments to your teeth at least once a year and will report back to you on what they find.

…will do a full mouth cancer visual examination at every dental health check.

…will explain the risks and benefits of all the treatment options available to you, and offer to refer you elsewhere if you choose an option they cannot provide at their practice

…will be polite, friendly and respectful at all times, and will have a team that do the same.

…will have meticulous sterilisation and cross infection control measures in place, and will be happy to discuss these with you.

…will run a fastidiously clean, tidy practice

…will have a written complaints procedure and will welcome all feedback, especially the negative, as it offers them a chance to improve their service.

…will take every care over your safety, by giving you eye and clothing protection, and using a rubber dam (a kind of 6” square rubber rainmac for the teeth!) when doing procedures using caustic chemicals like root fillings.

…will keep detailed notes, taken down either at the time of your visit or at the latest at the end of that session.

Once you find a dentist who ticks these boxes, you can also add in the things that matter to you in particular: you may need after work appointments, you may need someone who has a special interest in treating nervous patients, or you may need a ground floor surgery for example. Give the practice a ring and ask their front desk staff all the questions you need answering.

Our reception staff are always happy to spend as long as you need so that you can make the decision which is right for you, and you will get a good feel for the practice by how well you are treated during your phone call.

And a few pitfalls … don’t discount a dentist because of these:

Teeth that hurt after they have been treated are not always hurting because the dentist didn’t do the work right. Dental drilling is by its nature traumatic to tooth nerves and sometimes the nerves protest afterwards.
If two dentists give you different treatment plans, the one who says you need most doing is not necessarily over prescribing. Sometimes there is more than one right answer to a dental problem. And sometimes intervention early will save a lot of more expensive or difficult treatment later on: the bigger treatment plan now may be better in the long run. If you are unsure about the treatment you are being offered, ask to have it explained again, ask to see your x-rays, ask to have the problems shown to you in the mirror, or preferably on an intra oral camera. A good dentist will always want you to be completely confident in the treatment plan before proceeding.

If you struggle to find a dentist to do the work you want – for example to extract all your remaining teeth and fit dentures –  it may be that the work you want is not in your best interests. Dentists have an ethical duty only to perform treatment that they believe is right for you.

Teeth that break during extraction do not necessarily do so because the dentist was heavy handed. Some teeth, particularly those that are heavily filled or root filled or crowned, are very brittle. As long as the dentist explains to you what has happened and lets you know if they have had to leave some of the root in place, they have almost certainly acted correctly.

The human body is not a machine. Unfortunately even treatment carried out to a high standard by an experienced and careful dentist can sometimes fail to work. If your root filled tooth carries on hurting, or your teeth stay loose after your gum treatment, it’s not necessarily because the dentist did it wrong. Well, as long as it doesn’t happen very often, anyway!

We hope you have found the above tips helpful. If you have any further questions you need answering, then please contact us and we will be very happy to help if we are able.

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About the Author

Celia Burns - Principal Dentist & Clinical Director

My first love isn’t teeth; it’s people. That’s why I love being a dentist. It’s the best feeling in the world to be able to help an anxious patient, who has possibly avoided going to the dentist for many years, build their trust in me, and I get a real thrill from helping someone achieve the confidence in their smile that they want.

Six Month Smiles BACD - British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry British Dental Association The Oral Health Foundation GDC