Let’s be honest. No one loves going to the dentist — and not just because we don’t like to lie about how often we floss. There are a lot of reasons to hate even a simple checkup. It’s uncomfortable sitting there with your mouth wide open for long periods of time. It’s costly; many people don’t have dental insurance, so those bi-annual check-ups have to be paid for out of pocket. And what if you need a cavity filled or a tooth extracted? The level of discomfort and the cost both go way up.
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Those are all good reasons to dread a trip to your dentist, but are any of them enough to stop going altogether? Probably not. That said, there are at least four reasons you should cancel your next appointment and find another doctor to take care of your dental health.
Reason #1 — It hurts.
Generally speaking, going to the dentist shouldn’t hurt. This is especially true for a routine cleaning. A qualified dentist (or dental hygienist) who is properly trained and using the most current practices and equipment should be capable of performing basic services with no pain. Sure, there may be some discomfort as they scrape plaque and tartar from your teeth, brush them thoroughly, and floss between them, but it shouldn’t be painful.
One thing almost everyone fears, at least a little, is a shot. When given correctly, an injection shouldn’t hurt, either. According to Dr. Chiann Gibson, the pain from a shot is caused by the rate at which the medicine is injected into the gums. “The slower and more steady the dentist is when he or she injects the anesthesia, the more pain-free the injection,” she says.
If your hygienist or dentist is rough or causes you more than a little discomfort, it may be time to find another dental office with more compassionate care. If it’s just the fear of pain you are worried about, there are ways to make dental treatments less traumatic. Laser procedures for cavity removal, teeth whitening, and other services may not require anesthesia or stitches. Sedation dentistry, also known as relaxation dentistry, can also help control the anxiety that many people associate with dental procedures.
Reason #2 — It’s not clean.
Clean, up-to-date equipment is a must. If your dentist office hasn’t purchased new chairs, lights, or X-ray machines in a decade, there are likely still using old sterilization and cleaning procedures as well. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) set the guidelines. While it’s not your job to know what constitutes a sterile environment, there are warning signs for which you should be on the lookout:
- A “dirty” side and a “clean” side – Used and sterile instruments should be stored separately and should not mix. Oftentimes, offices will post lists that dictate proper protocol and labels that indicate where clean and dirty items should go.
- Cross contamination – This can occur if your doctors and hygienists are touching unsanitary items, like charts or door knobs, without removing and changing gloves. It can be uncomfortable to point this out, but it can cause cross contamination that could put your health — and that of other patients — at risk.
- Dust – Dust can trap bacteria and aerosol particles. A dusty office is not a sterile one.
- Restrooms – Door handles, faucets, and knobs should be cleaned daily, on top of normal weekly bathroom cleanings, to keep germs in check.
- Clutter – Like dust, clutter traps dirt and grime. A clutter-free office is bound to be cleaner than one with stacks of papers, cardboard boxes, or office supplies piled up everywhere.
Like in any medical environment, the risk of transferring diseases like hepatitis and HIV increases significantly in a contaminated environment. A good dentist knows that, and takes the necessary steps to ensure he’s protecting his clients, as well as himself and his personnel.
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Reason #3 — It’s too expensive.
The cost of dental services is part of the reason 40 percent of Americans don’t get regular dental cleanings. However, preventative care can save you a lot of money (and pain) in the long run. Switching to a dentist who accepts your insurance can cut your out-of-pocket costs significantly. If you find a dentist who will file your insurance for you, you’ll need less cash up front.
If your dental care bill is exceedingly expensive, or if your dentist continually suggests treatment procedures that are not covered by your insurance, be wary. According to the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, fraudulent dentists are few and far between. Most dentists play by the rules and have their patients’ best interests at heart. Still, there are some who will take advantage of insurance incentives to line their own pockets. Protect yourself from unnecessary costs by looking for the following warning signs:
- Urgent procedures – If your dentist suggests an immediate procedure, ask for a detailed explanation.
- Unusual amounts of work – If your dentist prescribes a number of procedures or a large procedure that seems out of line with your past dental health, that’s a red flag.
- Deals on treatments – Deeply discounted services, like free cleanings or check-ups, get you in the door. Then, fraudulent dentists suggest high-dollar treatments you don’t really need.
- Procedures not covered by insurance – Insurance companies cap per-patient benefit amounts, so it pays to push treatments and services not covered by insurance.
If you are afraid you are being taken advantage of, don’t hesitate to get a second opinion. Another visit may cost you a little more, but it can save you a lot in the long run.
Reason #4 — It’s inconvenient.
The final reason you may want to consider changing dentists is simply for convenience. While these issues may not seem as urgent, inconvenient appointment times, a long drive, or a cash-only payment policy make you less likely to go to the dentist. If you don’t go, you don’t get the care you need.
Don’t be afraid to look for a new dentist closer to your home or work, someone who can treat your whole family (including kids), or someone who offers Saturday morning appointment slots. Just make sure he checks all of the other boxes we’ve discussed as well.
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Make the Switch
If you decide to change dental providers, there are a few steps you can take to make the transition a smooth one.
- Find a dentist that meets all of the criteria listed above. Don’t be afraid to call the office, ask tough questions, and request a tour. You (and your teeth and gums) deserve the best care.
- Confirm that your new dentist accepts your insurance. Call your new dental office and the insurance provider. Check to make sure the office will file your insurance for you if you need that service.
- Secure your dental records from your old dentist. You can pick them up yourself, or you can sign a release and have them faxed to your new dentist. Some offices charge a fee for this service.
- Cancel any future appointments with your current dentist, and if you’re comfortable doing so, tell your current dentist why you are leaving.
Ultimately, good dental health is vital to your overall well-being. After all, periodontal disease has been linked to serious conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, pregnancy complications, respiratory disease, kidney disease, metabolic syndrome, erectile dysfunction, and cancer. So, if you aren’t making your regular dental visits, any reason is really reason enough to find a new practice that you can afford and where you feel safe and comfortable.