Communicating with your Dentist

Posted on Friday, August 11th, 2017 at 9:27 pm

For people in need of extensive dental work, a trip to the dentist can be a very emotional experience.

One of the challenges that I, and many others, have faced is anxiety, fear, and shame when it comes to having open communication with dental professionals. At my worst, when my teeth were severely decayed, I was so embarrassed by my condition that it felt almost impossible to talk to my dentist. Entering the exam room felt like I was entering a torture chamber. I had no idea what sort of pain or humiliation I might experience. I was terrified of being judged. Terrified of being scolded like a child for my condition. I spent most of my days trying to hide what was inside of my mouth and so the thought of sitting in a well-lit room and exposing it all to a stranger was almost debilitating. As soon as I sat down in the chair, I’d shut down. My main goal was to just make it through the appointment without causing a scene. I didn’t ask questions. I didn’t really speak unless spoken to and, even then, I felt so confused and unsure of my responses. Much of the information passed along from the dentist went in one ear and out the other. I’d leave the appointment feeling like I was coming out of a haze. I could hardly remember anything that was discussed because I was such a nervous wreck.

The goal of the professional is to treat your condition

It almost feels like dental professionals should also be trained psychologists. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably sat in the exam chair a time or two, sobbing into a tissue paper while reflecting back over all of your life choices. When they ask such a loaded question as, “What brings you in today?” I wanted nothing more than to tell them, “Well, I couldn’t smile on my wedding day. I feel naked and exposed every time I leave my house because I’m worried someone might see my teeth. I haven’t slept in 48 hours because my abscess isn’t responding to routine treatment. I’m starving because I haven’t eaten today and I had an emotional meltdown over a Colgate commercial last Wednesday.” It really is hard to stay focused when you’re so emotionally drained over the whole thing.

The thing is, their goal is to treat your condition and there is a very good chance that, no matter what you’ve got going on, they’ve seen it before. They don’t have time to judge you. While your thoughts are racing inside of your head, they’re trying to focus on treating you and moving you along so they can prepare for their next patient.

It is critical that you are able to communicate with your dentist

It is almost impossible for the dentist to properly treat your condition without your full cooperation and participation. This rings especially true when it comes to pre-op and post-op instructions. Zoning out when the dentist is giving you important information on how to fully prepare for an appointment or when they are giving you aftercare instructions can result in complications. I’ve talked to many people who had no idea why their dentures were so loose because they weren’t paying attention when the dentist told them about gum shrinkage and relines. In a few instances, people stopped wearing their dentures altogether because they had no idea that the solution was as simple as scheduling a quick appointment to have their dentures refitted. Some acquired dry socket and ended up in a great deal of pain, all because they failed to follow instructions.

If the goal of the professional is to treat your condition, your goal has to be that you fully understand all information given to you. That means you’re probably going to have to ask some questions. You may have to write a few things down. You may even have to phone the dentist for clarification. All of this is okay. You aren’t bothering the dentist by asking questions. They want you to ask questions because they want to be sure that you understand your responsibility in your treatment. An informed patient is one which has fewer problems. It saves you and the dentist time.

Tips on communicating with your dentist:

For starters, I highly recommend purchasing a small notebook and a pen to keep with you for all of your appointments. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or expensive, just small enough to fit in a purse or your pocket. This notebook will be your lifeline when your emotions are running high. On the very first page, write down the name of the business, the dentist’s and technicians name, the phone number and web address. Most smartphones come with a notepad app so if you feel you’re more likely to keep up with it there, use that. Having this info readily available will save you time if you run into a problem and have to phone the dentist on the fly, should you encounter a problem.

If you have any questions you know you might need to ask the dentist, write them down in this notebook, beforehand. Make it a point that you will not leave the office without asking these questions.

Jot down relevant information and instructions as they are given to you. You may think this might annoy the dentist or worry that you are wasting their time but, trust me, most would rather spend a little extra time clarifying information for you than for you to have to return to the office over something that could have easily been cleared up at this appointment.

Most dentists go out of their way to ensure they aren’t speaking over your head but there are times when they will throw info out there that you simply don’t understand. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. Many will give you aftercare instructions in a pamphlet or typed up on a sheet of paper. If you run into anything that you don’t understand or are unsure of, don’t hesitate to call the office and ask them to clarify things for you.

Papers are hard to keep up with and often times end up lost so another great tip is to use your phone to take a photo of any written or typed information.

If you find yourself getting emotional, it’s okay to ask for a moment to collect your thoughts. Don’t shut down, completely. Take a moment to pull yourself together, then resume communication.

But, most importantly, understand that your dentist wants to give you the proper care and treatment for your condition. There is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed by. They have seen it. The number one question I get from dentists is how they can make the patient comfortable enough to openly communicate with them so that they fully understand their treatment plan and any information pertaining to that. They really do want you to ask questions.

Do you have any tips on effectively communicating with the dentist? Share them in the comments section below!

This post is sponsored by Ivoclar Vivadent. For more information on Ivoclar Vivadent denture products, visit

3 thoughts on “Communicating with your Dentist

  1. Thanks for your tip to look for a dentist that you can talk with easily. I also like how you said that they should also be able to treat whatever you are facing. My husband and I are looking into dentists for dental fluoride treatments.

  2. Thank you for all the tips for communicating with your dentist. I really want to get better at asking questions about my teeth and learning things. I really like your tips about writing down all the questions in a notebook beforehand. I think that is a great idea!

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