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regular-article-logo Thursday, 13 June 2024

Tooth Trick

Visits to the dentist can be daunting and it doesn’t help that the doctor speaks an alien tongue

Knvul Sheikh Published 08.05.24, 07:28 AM
istock.com/edwin tan

istock.com/edwin tan

Dentists may seem to speak another language entirely, and everything they suggest can feel important. You must have a sealant painted on your tooth or risk bacteria creating holes in it. You must get an extraction because an oral infection has spread and is causing pain.

To get the best results and a more positive experience, experts recommend speaking up. Here are tips for what to ask and how to evaluate the treatments you are offered at the dentist’s.

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Get a good look

The first step to effectively advocating for yourself is understanding what your problems are. Ask your dentist to show you exactly where the pockets of your gums are getting deeper and letting bacteria accumulate, or which fillings are getting worn down by night grinding.

“You don’t have to get technical,” said Dr Ellie Phillips, a preventive dentist based in Austin, Texas, US. “But I would recommend noting if it’s something affecting your front teeth or the back of your mouth. Is it on the outside, which is the cheek side, or is it on the tongue side?”

Visual aids such as X-rays or images from an intraoral camera — or even just looking in a mirror — can help demystify what’s going on in your mouth.

Don’t feel pressured

Your dentist should be able to explain why particular problem areas need specific treatments, said Alyson Leffel, director of patient advocacy and social work at the NYU College of Dentistry in the US. And it’s perfectly reasonable to ask them for time to research and reflect on your options.

Not every child or adult needs cleanings twice a year, for instance. Studies have found they don’t necessarily lead to better dental outcomes. Similarly, experts debate the benefits of extracting wisdom teeth. And old silver fillings don’t always have to be replaced with composite ones. If you feel uncomfortable pushing back in the moment, one way to give yourself more time is to schedule the recommended appointment for a future date, Dr Phillips said. Then you can call to reschedule or cancel later.

Ask what’s urgent

Some issues, like an abscess, may need to be treated right away. But others, such as teeth that need to be replaced with implants, should be dealt with over multiple appointments. It’s the dentist’s job to lay out a treatment plan that prioritises the most urgent issues and avoids piling major treatments into a single visit.

As the patient, you can — and should — request detailed explanations of the benefits and risks of each treatment, what the recovery time is like, whether you will need medication to manage pain and whether there are consequences of delaying care.

“The more questions you ask, the more educated you will be about your dental treatment and the less likely you are to be anxious about it,” Leffel said.

Experts also recommended asking about alternative treatments, such as antibiotics for managing gum disease instead of scaling and root planing or surgery. There may also be alternative materials available for the same kind of fix, like porcelain, resin or gold crowns.

Get a second opinion

If you have oral surgery or another big procedure coming up or feel uncomfortable with your dentist’s recommendations for any reason, consider getting another expert’s perspective.

If you need your bite corrected, talk to an orthodontist. If you have bleeding in your gums, seek out a periodontist. And if a dentist has recommended a root canal or a full mouth extraction, consult an endodontist or oral surgeon, said Craigg Voightmann, a dental malpractice lawyer in Scottsdale, Arizona, US.

“If there’s a speciality that does the procedure, you shouldn’t have a general dentist doing it for the most part,” Voightmann said.

Beware of red flags

When you see a new dentist, be wary if they recommend far more treatment than your previous provider suggested. Not all procedures are strictly necessary. For example, some early-stage cavities can simply be monitored every couple of months and don’t need to be filled right away.

Avoid practices that offer steep discounts just to get you in the door or say they can
do complicated procedures like implants in one day, Voightmann suggested.

And rely on personal recommendations from friends, family or dental professionals themselves. Ask your hygienist or dentist where they would go if they needed the treatment you’re getting, Voightmann said.

The best scenario is when your dentist’s treatment philosophy aligns with your own.

“They could be the best dentist in the world, but if you don’t feel comfortable with them, that’s not going to be a successful relationship,” Leffel said. “So you need to, as a patient, decide what makes you feel the best.”

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