When it comes to finding a dentist, or even evaluating the one you have, how do you differentiate between the good ones and the bad? We’ve offered some helpful tips…

dentist with kid
Photo by Mikael Wiman / CC-BY-NC-ND

Good vs. Bad Dentistry: How to Know the Difference

When it comes to finding a dentist, or even evaluating the one you have, how do you differentiate between the good ones and the bad? We’ve offered some helpful tips below to help in your evaluation. Keep in mind though, no dentist office will be perfect, but you should at least see them working on some, if not all, of the areas mentioned. Pick out what’s most important to you in a dentist and filter your experience through that perspective. And pay close attention to the special categories marked below as these are the areas we believe should be top on your list.

First Impression

The first impression of your dentist and his/her office actually consists of three parts.

      • The scheduling. This is where it all begins—the phone call when you make your appointment. Is the receptionist kind and open to answering your questions or does he/she respond more harshly? A dentist’s staff says a lot about the dentist and his/her practice.
      • The office. What feeling do you get when you walk into the dentist’s office? Does it feel welcoming? Does the staff at the dental office seem happy and helpful? If you’re just given a clipboard and told to sit down without much introduction or sense that they even care you’re there, you may be in the wrong dental office. Additionally, have a look around the office. If the office is dusty and unclean, you are being well-warned that their dental office is not sterile, which means the instruments the dentist uses to put into your mouth won’t be either. If that’s the case, get out of there and find somewhere else to go!
      • The wait. The last step of your first impression includes the wait. While I wouldn’t base your decision solely on the wait, because some dentists may encounter difficult problems they couldn’t plan for that day, it is still something to consider.

*Pain Level

A mark of a good dentist is being able to give treatment in a way that minimizes a patient’s pain. Poor dentists will not worry about minimizing a patient’s pain and will be much rougher in administering routine care like cleanings or giving shots.

*Equipment Cleanliness

Find out how they clean their equipment. How do they sterilize it? A high quality dental office will not be offended by you asking the question and they might even show you what they use to clean their equipment.

*Good Hygiene

If your dentist keeps his/her gloves on after he/she has cleaned your mouth and you see him/her rummaging through drawers, writing notes or doing anything else, that’s not a good sign. And if you see your dentist doing any of these things before cleaning your mouth, that’s an even worse sign.

*Monetary Obsession

Good dentists care about their patients and improving their oral health. They aren’t interested in scamming their patients or getting as much money as they can out of them. You may believe it’s impossible to know for sure, but there are some sure ways to figure out where their real intentions lie.

    • Extreme and Unnecessary Procedures. While some extreme procedures are necessary depending on the state of your teeth, if your dentist jumps immediately to that option without covering any other alternatives that might be less expensive, find another dentist or seek a second opinion. Now, if it is really necessary, they may lay out your options and then tell you which one they recommend, but they shouldn’t force you to choose the most expensive option. Additionally, if this dentist recommends expensive procedures every time you come in, it’s a clear sign they care more about money than about you.
    • Upselling. Be cautious of dentists who try to sell you extra products like bottles of vitamins and herbs that can help your oral health. It will be hard to tell if these products will actually be a help to you or if it’s just their way of making a quick buck.
    • Payment. If a dentist requests the full payment for your dental work before the dentist even begins the work, red flag.
    • Checking the Bill. If you had a simple dental appointment with no major problems, your bill should reflect that. If a dental office spends a lot of their time itemizing your bill and suggests costly procedures every time you go in, or if they are not willing to work with you on a payment plan, it’s time to find another dentist.

*Poor Work

If your fillings fall out, veneers come off and crowns come loose not long after the work has been completed, it could be a sign that you are seeing a bad dentist. However, if you ate something your dentist told you to stay away from and your filling or crown or veneer came loose, don’t blame your dentist.

Staff Queries

Get to know your dental hygienist. Ask him/her if their family gets their dental work done at that office. If they say no, that should be a red flag for you. If the dental hygienist isn’t even comfortable bringing their family there, then you shouldn’t be comfortable going there either.

Post-Checkup Response

How do you feel after your checkup? Your dentist is supposed to improve your dental health not create more problems. A good dentist can provide his/her patients with routine services without causing you longer discomfort. If you are still experiencing bleeding weeks or months after you have had a root canal, crowns, bridges, or if you dentures keep falling out, then you need to find a new dentist, no question.


Filter your experience through this lens and you’ll be able to determine the quality of your dentist. Need more tips on evaluating your dentist, see How to Interview a Dentist.

What has been your best dental experience? Describe it for us in the comment section below.


Natasha is 1Dental’s managing editor and copywriter, focusing content on dental and health news, advice and tips. She graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication and has since been a book editor and now copywriter and managing editor on dental and health. You can find her on Google+ and on all of 1Dental’s social networks.

  1. I have gotten where I don’t trust any dentist. I might have to go to one, but I don’t trust any of them.
    If the government wants to control everything then they need to take over this dental industry.
    These people could rob banks and get away with it.

    • I’m so sorry you are feeling that way. There are many trustworthy dentists out there, but sometimes after having a bad experience–or maybe several–it can be hard to trust any of them. I hope that you will continue to go to your regular dental checkups and that you find a dentist that is honest, trustworthy and personable!

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