How to Advocate for Yourself at the Dentist

How to Advocate for Yourself at the Dentist

“You don’t have to get technical about it,” said Ellie Phillips, a preventive dentist based in Austin. “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 like X-rays or images from an intraoral camera — or even just looking in a mirror — can also help demystify what’s going on in your mouth.

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. 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.

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 ideally be dealt with over multiple appointments, Dr. Phillips said. It’s the dentist’s job to lay out a treatment plan that prioritizes 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 to take 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,” Ms. Leffel said.

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