The Biggest Red Flags to Watch Out For at the Dentist

Having your teeth poked and prodded with scary-sounding and pointy tools can make even the bravest people squirm in their seats (or in this case, a dentist’s chair). As nerve-racking as dental appointments can be, though, it’s important to schedule a check-up every six months. And perhaps the most important factor that’ll determine whether or not you have a comfortable versus frightening visit is the provider you choose, Marina Gonchar, DMD, a board-certified orthodontist and owner of Skin to Smile in New Jersey, tells SELF.

“So many people are scared of going to the dentist for a variety of reasons, including previous bad experiences, lack of knowledge about what to expect, or even fear of the costs associated with many treatments,” Dr. Gonchar says. These are very valid concerns, of course, but finding a dentist who helps you feel safe and supported can alleviate a lot of those stressors—and most providers should go out of their way to minimize any discomfort or anxiety, she adds.

On the flip side, a dentist who keeps pressuring you into unnecessary procedures or leaves you in the dark about how painful a root canal actually is can be enough to scare you off for good. With that in mind, here are some major red flags to be mindful of before you book your next dentist appointment.

1. They don’t have proper credentials.

A fancy degree on the wall and a crisp white coat can make anyone look legit; but just because a dentist seems impressive doesn’t mean they are. As a general rule, you can look up their license and renewal status online because it’s public information, Chrystle Cu, DDS, a dentist at Young Dental Group in San Mateo, California, and founder of Cocofloss, tells SELF. (You can find these facts for every state here or here).

If you’re not sure what exactly to look for, or if this whole vetting process is seriously intimidating you, Dr. Cu recommends first checking their degree—and specifically making sure you see DDS (doctor of dental surgery) or DMD (doctor of medicine in dentistry) after their name if they’re practicing in the US or Canada. (According to the American Dental Association, both degrees are pretty much the same and involve similar training.) So only having a PhD in oral biology, for instance, doesn’t qualify someone to take a drill to your mouth, regardless of how knowledgeable they are about the field.

2. They don’t discuss your dental history.

Any qualified dentist should be able to immediately spot a really bad cavity or loose filling. But they might not be able to see your predisposition for gum disease or harmful habits like teeth grinding at first glance—and even if they can, that’s something they should discuss with you during your first visit, Dr. Cu says.

For one thing, failing to consider your health history before treating you can be dangerous. Certain materials commonly used in dentistry, like latex, can trigger an allergic reaction in some people, for example, while other folks may respond badly to particular pain meds, such as opioids. And if you have a condition like diabetes or high blood pressure, that might also impact your oral health, as well as your treatment options, Dr. Cu says.

3. They push you to get a non-emergency procedure on the spot.

It’s one thing to need a fractured or infected tooth treated ASAP, especially if you haven’t been to the dentist in a while and your health is at stake. For the most part, though, any complex procedure (such as wisdom tooth extraction or dental implants) will be planned weeks in advance, Dr. Gonchar and Dr. Cu say. Rushing you into a non-emergency treatment at your first appointment may be an attempt to prioritize profits, since surgeries and other invasive measures typically involve higher fees than routine checkups, Dr. Gonchar adds.

4. They keep suggesting cosmetic treatments that you didn’t ask for.

Some of us go to the dentist in pursuit of the sparkliest, straightest, pearliest of whites. Others just want the bare minimum: A professional to tell us whether or not our teeth are healthy so we can move on with our lives.

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