Updated: 1/10/2020

How to find a dentist you like may be subjective. Everyone has characteristics and skills they’re looking for in a dentist, which may differ from what someone else wants. While someone may want a dentist who is relatable, asks good questions and gets to know you as a person, others may want a dentist who will get you in and out of the office in a timely manner, which may mean cleaning your teeth without a lot of chit-chat.

Despite these differences, most of us can probably agree we want a good dentist who will treat our teeth and gums, will deal with us honestly and will offer these services at an affordable price.

Here are some considerations we think can help you find a dentist you like.

How to Find a Dentist You Like

  • Determine what type of dentist you need (family dentist, an adult dentist near you [general dentist], pediatric dentist, endodontist, prosthodontist, etc.)
  • Ask family and friends for recommendations. You can also consult your family doctor for suggestions. And, if you’re moving, consult your current dentist for referrals.
  • Look up reviews online. Whether you’re checking out a dentist your friends or family have referred you to or a dentist you saw online, reviews can be a great way to see what people do and do not like about the dentist.
  • Visit the dentist and see how you like them.
  • If you don’t like that dentist or you notice red flags while there, repeat these search steps again.

Finding a dentist you like takes time, but taking the time to look for one now will save you a lot of headaches in the future.

How to Know If You’ve Found a Good Dentist

Many people do not enjoy going to the dentist, and there are some valid reasons behind this.

The time you have to take off work to go to your appointment, where you have to endure long waits in the waiting room and be half-heartedly greeted by a receptionist who hates her job; then, once you’re in the dental chair, having to bite down on those plastic, wing-shaped devices that are much too big for your mouth (they hold the film for the x-ray) while the dental hygienist fumbles around and slowly takes x-rays of your mouth.

Once the cleaning begins, you might get sprayed in the mouth and face by the ultrasonic scaler the dental hygienist is holding while she picks at your teeth with the dental probe; this is then followed by a consultation with your dentist who says you need even more work to fill some cavities that were found, which is going to cost a lot of money and force you to take more time off work and endure more uncomfortable treatment.

Sounds awful, doesn’t it? But picture this:

You enter the dental office and are met by a clean, relaxing space, soothing music in the background and a friendly face, who asks how you’re doing and how the family is (calling you and your family members by name).

After a short wait in the waiting room, you’re brought out of the lobby and to your room where you sit down and take x-rays. Fortunately, the dental hygienist knows this is an uncomfortable process so she is quick to take the pictures the dentist needs.

Next comes the cleaning. The hygienist is precise in her work so you only have minimal water sprayed on the outside of your mouth and finish the cleaning with that fresh, sensational feeling of clean teeth.

Finally, the dentist meets with you for a consultation about what other work is needed. Although you do need additional fillings, you aren’t pressured to get them all done right away or pay for them all at once. The dentist can take care of one or two of them at your convenience (though he still may stress the importance of getting them taken care of) and works out a payment plan to help you cover the cost.

The experience is drastically different, isn’t it? That is the power of going to a good dentist, which often results in a dentist you like. But how do you find such a dentist?


Commonly Agreed-Upon Qualities of a Good Dentist

1. Flexible Hours and Scheduling. The importance of this will depend on you, but a lot of people enjoy and really benefit from finding a dental office that has flexible hours and scheduling (that is, availability outside of the typical 8 to 5, Monday through Friday time frame when people are still at work).

Even if their availability is a small window beyond that 8 to 5 time frame, that still offers some options for you.

How about follow-up appointments? Do you have to wait to see the dentist 3-4 weeks out for follow-up work or do they have more availability than that? While this may be a sign the you’ve found a popular dentist, it doesn’t do too much good for you if your tooth is hurting and you’d rather not wait.

What to Look for In A Dentist

 2. Has a Clean Office Space. As mentioned above, a contributor to a positive experience is entering an office that is clean and orderly. If the office isn’t put together and seems unclean, it may not be the best place to have someone working on your mouth.

You’ll also want to pay attention to the hygienists and dentists once you’re in the office chair to see if they’re diligent about changing out their gloves if they’ve messed with the overhead light, dug through drawers, etc. It’s important to find a dentist who is aware of this. There could be a lot of germs in that office and you don’t want those germs transferring to your mouth.

3. Short Wait Time. A good dental office often strives to reduce wait times for patients. Granted, emergencies come up that a dentist may need to see to so it’s possible you will have some wait time, but if you’re having to wait long periods each time you visit the office, it could be an indication that the dentist doesn’t value your time as much as his. Good dentists try to be punctual, as best they can.

4. Breaks Up the Cost. This is an important one. Dental work and treatment is typically expensive. In addition to finding a discount dental plan to help reduce dental costs, you may want a dentist who is happy to work out some type of payment plan for dental work or break up treatment over several visits to help you afford the work. This is a positive trait of a good dentist. They understand that paying for dental work is a sacrifice and difficult on families and they don’t abuse that.

5. Doesn’t Push Their Upsells. I read somewhere that good dentists do not upsell products, EVER. I don’t believe that’s true. I have met several really good dentists who do upsell other products or services (electric toothbrushes, teeth whitening, etc.), but they don’t push the upsells too hard. They won’t pressure you to buy or keep asking after you’ve said no. Some dentists won’t even mention their upsells; they’ll just have signs around the office advertising them and if you ask they will be happy to discuss it.

6. Gets to Know Patients. Does your dentist know your name or ask you questions about different events and areas of your life you’ve mentioned before? It seems strange to put this expectation on dentists, but it’s something that some people associate with good dentistry–dentists who try to get to know their patients. They do this by:

  • Actively listening to what you say
  • Asking follow-up questions about things they remember you saying before (maybe a trip you mentioned you were taking, a job change happening for you or your significant other, a child’s birthday, etc.)
  • Warning you about dental treatment that needs to be done that they know you’re anxious about. For instance, if you don’t like shots, your dentist should remember that and try to distract you so you aren’t so focused on it. This can create a more positive experience at the dentist.

Again, this point may be subjective. Some people may not want this. They’d rather have a dentist who is quick and to the point with treatment. Others want a dentist who is relatable. Some dentists are good at both.

7. Treats the Staff with Respect. How does the dentist treat his staff? Do the receptionist and dental hygienist seem to enjoy their jobs there? Do the dentist and other employees speak kindly and respectfully to one another? Everyone is going to have difficult days, but if you notice employees speaking badly or harshly with each other, that may be a sign to find another dental office.

8. Follows Up on Treatment. For a lot of dentists, it’s easy to do the treatment and think, That’s the end of that. But a good dentist follows up with his patients after the treatment to see how they’re doing, how they’re feeling, and to make sure treatment did what it was supposed to (filling a cavity, taking away tooth pain, etc.).

9. Happy and Willing to Answer Questions. How does the dentist do with questions? A good dentist will be happy to answer questions you have. Come to the office with a list of questions prepared and see how they respond. Is he quick to brush them aside or does he take your concerns seriously and address them with patience and gentleness?

Warning Signs of Bad Dentistry

To help you find a dentist you like, we thought it would be prudent to go over a few signs to look for in a bad dentist. This will help save you from a lot of frustration and anxiety later on.

1. Extensive and Expensive Treatment Recommendations. The difficult part of dental care is the great subjectiveness of the industry. It’s common to hear varying diagnoses and treatment estimates from different dentists. However, hearing drastically different recommendations could be a warning sign that one of those dentists isn’t being honest with you. If you’re not sure which one, it may be worth the investment in another opinion.

Sounds troublesome, right? But if you’re really unsure, you could really benefit from that second opinion.

Some examples of extensive treatment that might be recommended include the dentist telling you…

  • you have a mouth full of cavities
  • all of your fillings need to be replaced
  • you need surgery to extend your receding gums

If this happens, especially if you haven’t had a history of dental problems, take a step back and find another dentist to give you a second opinion. It’s worth the time and a little extra money (to pay for an additional dental visit) to save you hundreds of dollars, if not thousands. This is the most common pattern of fraud–recommending unnecessary treatment!

It’s possible your previous dentist missed something or something has developed during your transition between dentists, but drastic problems are likely not to have developed so quickly or been overlooked.

2. Pressure to Receive Additional Treatment Immediately. Unless you have serious dental problems that could be affecting your overall health or can get worse if left unchecked, most dental treatments aren’t usually emergencies. They could become so over time so you definitely want to get them taken care of as soon as possible, but feeling pressure to get all of that treatment done in one day may be a stretch.

Most dentists are happy to type up a treatment plan for you to look over and consider, then make a follow-up appointment to start the work. They can usually split up treatment over several appointments, too, to help with the cost.

3. Pushing Upsells. Like I mentioned before, a lot of dentists have started upselling other products–like electric toothbrushes, in-office teeth whitening and more–but it’s the way that they upsell that holds up the red flag or not. If they are overly pushy with the upsell and don’t seem to take no for an answer, you may want to find another dentist. Dentists are, first and foremost, to care for our dental health, not salesmen trying to get ahead.

4. Recommending Unnecessary Treatment. This is huge. There are a few different treatments/procedures that some dentists will recommend that are unnecessary and may be a red flag that indicates you’re getting scammed:

  • Excessive x-rays. Dentists who want to do a full set of dental x-rays at every visit (who know you just had them done at a previous dentist) or claim that they can’t treat someone without getting x-rays first may be trying to earn your money, not treat your dental health. The ADA recommends limiting a full set of x-rays to every 2 years, at most, to limit radiation exposure.
  • Deep cleanings. Deep cleanings are normally reserved for patients who have frequent gum infections or periodontal problems. If you have neither, you may want to opt out of these cleanings. These treatments are often expensive so if you don’t really need one, you don’t want to pay for one.
  • Tooth fillings. Whether the dentist is recommending new fillings that you know you don’t need or is telling you to replace ALL of your old fillings, you may want to get a second opinion. Granted, fillings do need to be replaced eventually, but having them done immediately and all at once is unnecessary, unless it’s been a really long time since you had them put in. But even if that is the case, your dentist can still break up these treatments for you.

Questions to Ask a New Dentist

As you scope out new dentists, it’s good to have questions prepared to ask them. Think about what’s important to you in a dentist and add those questions to this list. The following questions are common questions that patients ask of dentists and ones that can be helpful to know if you intend to see this dentist long-term.

  1. What insurance plans/discount plans do you accept?
  2. What payment methods do you accept? Do you offer payment plans?
  3. What are your office hours? Are you available after hours or on weekends should a dental emergency arise?
  4. How long have you been in business?
  5. Where did you study dentistry? What are your qualifications to practice dentistry?
  6. Are there different options (materials) to choose from for fillings, dental implants, dentures?
  7. What kind of anesthesia is offered at your dental office?
  8. Are there amenities like TV or music?
  9. Do you provide care for adults and children? Does your office work with kids often?
  10. Do you pride yourself on having the latest technology in your office?

What are you looking for in a dentist? Share your list with us in the comment section below!