Am I being too picky with dentists?
June 8, 2021 8:09 PM   Subscribe

I've been to five different dentists in the last several years. The first three practices I left for what I thought were valid reasons (always running super late, messed up a crown and couldn't fix it, etc) I'm wondering about the other two, though.

With the penultimate dentist I saw, I loved everything about them except that the hygienist who was cleaning my teeth was working solo, and when the time came to measure my pockets she would pause every few teeth and turn and type on the computer behind her without removing her gloves. I thought it was weird at the time, but the more I thought about it the more grossed out I became. Was she doing this with every patient? I guess they could wipe down the keyboard after each patient, but still seemed bizarre.

With the most recent dentist I was at, I was very "meh" on the experience. I felt a bit rushed. They didn't measure pockets at all (it didn't occur to me till later). Granted this was last fall so I'm sure covid factored in. I got a bill for the visit which was odd since normally dental insurance covers cleanings in full. It was small enough that I just paid it.

Now I'm vaccinated and looking to schedule a tooth cleaning. Am I being really hard on my dentists, or do I have bad luck, or is it normal to jump around this much? Are these all typical dentist things? I'm really weird about my gums because I have gum disease and the fact that a place wouldn't measure pockets as part of a routine cleaning seems like they're not great for me, at least.

But do I (sigh) have to go research finding yet another dentist? Everyone I've seen so far had great reviews online.
posted by whistle pig to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Regarding the first example you gave: one vote for gross! When I had my teeth (?) measured, they had one person calling out the numbers and another person recording them. I've seen sandwich artists at Subway using more care than what you describe!
posted by cranberrymonger at 8:32 PM on June 8, 2021 [8 favorites]

I mean, you get to decide for yourself what your standards are. I'm unsure what is normal, but I'll write about my experience as a data point.

I've had the same dentist since I was a kid. When I lived far away, I'd just schedule dental appointments for when I was visiting my parents. The one time I can recall seeing a local dentist, he found "cavities" that didn't exist. I had no tooth pain and had never had a cavity before in my life, so I declined treatment. I saw my regular dentist when I got home. He said I did not have cavities and we proceeded with the normal routine. That was years ago. The "cavities" I was diagnosed with were clearly a cash grab.

But I've skipped around doctors because I've rarely found one who's either competent or respectful, and almost never both. When I have a slight glimmer of hope that maybe I could fund someone who doesn't treat me like trash because I'm female and fat, I try again.

I would be grossed out too about someone spelunking in my mouth after typing on a computer and without changing gloves. If that happened to me, I would talk to my dentist about it and ask for a different hygienist next time. Because even if the glove issue were fixed, I'd no longer trust that hygienist.

Waiting a long time isn't fun but that wouldn't be a deal-breaker for me, especially if I felt I wasn't rushed when I saw the provider. Running late can be a sign of a badly-managed office, but it could also be a sign that the practitioner takes all the time needed to properly treat each patient.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 8:36 PM on June 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

You're not being too picky; those are all legitimate reasons to keep looking for a better dentist. Even before the pandemic, I was not shy about clearly stating that "I'd prefer it if you changed your gloves" to any doctor, dentist, or assistant that would be touching any part of my body. You need to speak up in the moment and if they get snippy about it, that's another reason to leave. You're paying them for a professional service and they should at the bare minimum practice proper hygiene.

My favorite dentist retired after I'd been his patient for nearly ten years and it took me five or six tries before I found one almost as good, so keep looking. Don't put your trust in online reviews which can be faked. Try to get word of mouth recommendations instead.

Don't just pay bills when you know you're being charged incorrectly. If you don't want to talk on the phone, send a simple email or letter (keep copies) letting them know there's been a billing error and you need it fixed right away. Ask for a copy of the corrected bill to be sent to you so that they can't try to send it to collections later and ding your credit.

They should be measuring your pockets, especially if you have gum disease. If they "forget" remind them while you're still in the chair.

As for the nasty hygienist, if you find yourself in that position again with someone working alone, tell him/her that you don't want them touching your mouth and the keyboard without changing gloves. I bet they'll find someone to assist if you speak up or threaten to leave. That's inexcusable. They could always dictate the results to their phone or something without touching it.

Good luck.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 8:41 PM on June 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

My dental hygienist uses some voice dictation software to enter the gum pocket measurements into the computer.
posted by jabah at 9:12 PM on June 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

With the most recent dentist I was at, I was very "meh" on the experience. I felt a bit rushed. They didn't measure pockets at all (it didn't occur to me till later). Granted this was last fall so I'm sure covid factored in.

I definitely had my pockets measured during my last cleaning, which was a few months ago (she dictated them out loud to the computer).

I would keep looking. I have a bit of anxiety around dentistry (from personal and anecdotal experience) and it's important to me to have a good rapport with the practitioners and office staff because then I feel more confident asking questions about what's going on and understanding how my expectations and needs are going to be met. This means it's far more likely I'll actually continue going, to be honest. It took me several tries to find a good fit.
posted by sm1tten at 9:28 PM on June 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Regarding the fee, when I was looking for a new dentist during covid times, I noticed that many dentists were charging a $5-$20 fee to cover the cost of increased PPE. Though even if this were the case for you, it still should have been communicated clearly.

And yeah, the keyboard thing is gross.
posted by mouse noises at 1:29 AM on June 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

the keyboard thing: they have covers on the keyboards that are changed after use. Same for the light knob, the xray equipment etc. If that practice wasn't using them, never go back.
posted by james33 at 4:32 AM on June 9, 2021 [12 favorites]

It can be uncomfortable, the first couple of times, to speak up, but it's a Very Useful Life Skill. The percentage likelihood of achieving rapport is low enough in my experience without contributing by passively hoping the other party does all the work. Yes, you can expect that they "should" do all the work, but I'd rather speak up and find out how responsive they are then have to engage in yet another search and start with yet another provider. YMWV depending on your preferences. Good luck finding the right fit!
posted by dancing leaves at 4:44 AM on June 9, 2021

Best answer: Yeah find a new dentist.

My uncle is a dentist and was my dentist for a good chunk of my life, and then I had to find a new dentist because I live far away now. My uncle is a dental nerd. That's what you want. You want someone who loves dentistry so much that they do a ton of continuing education on dentistry. Their practice will typically have up to date technology, they'll typically require that their hygienists get continuing education, and they'll typically be more interested in minimally invasive, conservative procedures vs drill baby drill. Typically these practices are not going to be the pretty, flashy ones, because instead of buying flat screens and Netflix for all the ceilings they're reinvesting in education and dental technology. Boring. Low frills, high skills.

How do you find these dentists? The place the biggest dentist nerds go is the Academy of General Dentistry for their Fellowship and Masters. You can search here on their website for dentists near you who have earned those awards. You'll notice there aren't very many dentists who have the MAGD, just the FAGD. (My uncle would like everyone to know that he has both.)

My dentist in Chicago has his FAGD and I have been very happy there. My hygienist is a huge dweeb who happily prattles on about tooth anatomy and gum health for the entire 45 minutes of a cleaning. I love her. There's nothing to do but look out the window and listen to dental nerds. 10/10

Good luck!
posted by phunniemee at 4:45 AM on June 9, 2021 [39 favorites]

Agree with dental nerds. I had a dentist in small town PA, who wanted to do implants for the few places in my mouth that needed new teeth, at cost because it was an interesting thing for him to do. I passed but still.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 6:47 PM on June 9, 2021

If you really liked the office in general with the hygienist you _didn't_ like, I'd maybe go back there and ask to speak to the dentist about that issue, maybe they need to train the hygienists about it, and maybe you could end up being the catalyst for an improvement that helps a lot of people. It's also possible that the hygienist has moved on (at my dentist's it seems they last a year, maybe two, but of course your experience may be different)
posted by TimHare at 7:50 PM on June 9, 2021

« Older What is a normal level of tired?   |   How do I find a therapist who understands... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments