We’re not going to wear masks forever. We have to keep our teeth and smiles looking nice and healthy.
That means I have a tough decision to make in 2021: I have to decide which of my two dentists I’m going to choose.
Neither one is perfect, but I like certain things about each of them. I really can’t decide, so I’m going to tell you the whole story and then you can help me choose. Ready? Let’s go.
I had a great dentist for about 12 years – we’ll call them dentist #1. I always loved the hygienists and adored my dentist, even if the front office staff seemed a little snooty.
In 2019, I had extremely major dental work done: my first-ever dental implant. It involved almost an entire year of procedures, scary new experiences at the endodontist and dental surgeon, and ultimately getting my beautiful new dental implant.
All in all, the process went about as well as it possibly could. My dentist and all the other professionals involved were terrific. I felt fortunate to have such great dental care – and good insurance to help pay for it all.
But then in 2020, the front office staff at dentist #1 really ticked me off. I had made an appointment for a cleaning in early April, which they understandably cancelled due to COVID.
We rescheduled it for September, when I was in the throes of growing my new business AND home schooling Z on a crazy hybrid schedule. When the morning of the appointment rolled around, I had my hands full and totally botched the time.
I called dentist #1 to let them know I was running late and wouldn’t be able to make my appointment on time. They thanked me for calling them. I thought all would be okay.
Then, in October, I got a bill for $50 for my “no-show” appointment. It really rubbed me the wrong way. I wasn’t a no-show, I was simply a late call – surely that’s a little better? Couldn’t they knock it down to $25 or possibly even waive it all together?
I called dentist #1 and explained the situation to the front-office staff. I let them know that I’ve been coming there for 12+ years and that I spent a small fortune with them in 2019.
I mentioned that I had more major work (a couple of crowns) coming up in 2020. And I asked, sweetly, couldn’t they possibly waive or reduce the fee, since I had called that morning and therefore wasn’t a no-show?
She put me on hold and said she’d check with the boss. I had a good feeling – after all, I had made some really great points and I was a good customer, and surely they didn’t want to lose me and my aging, crumbling teeth as a customer over a measly $50?!
But when she got back on the line, her voice was icy cold. She let me know that, in the 12 years I’ve been a customer, they have waived the no-show/ running late fee many times. She reiterated that this is their policy and I would need to pay the fee.
I sadly asked if they were really willing to lose a good client over $50, and she said yes, it’s their policy. So I told her thank you for being my dentist for 12 years, but I’m parting ways immediately. Then I hung up the phone, feeling very sad and rejected, and began searching for a new dentist.
And yes, of course I also paid dentist #1 that final $50 fee. I considered it a parting gift.
After asking friends for recommendations and reading reviews online, I chose my new dentist. Dentist #2 is close to my house and has the friendliest, perkiest front office staff I have ever heard in my life. They made me feel like they were thrilled I had called and chosen them. I had a good feeling.
On my first visit to dentist #2, I was treated like actual royalty. They met me at the door, gave me a new patient gift (!!!) and toured me around their gorgeous, elegant, purple-accented office. They also explained to me that they have a comfort menu of items intended to make patients feel relaxed and content while they have their dental work done. This list includes plushy blankets, neck warmers, and so much more.
As I raved on Yelp, Dentist #2 honestly feels more like a trip to the spa. They employ an all-female staff and the vibe reminds me of going to the salon at Kenneth’s. I loved it and felt very comfortable during my cleaning and x-rays. I was even comfortable when they told me I would need a couple of crowns, since dentist #1 had already told me that was going to be necessary.
But here’s when my story takes a turn. My experience getting the crown prep work done (a TON of drilling) was not fun at dentist #2. I told them I am an anxious patient and need nitrous, and they did give me gas but they must have kept it very light because I remained extremely stressed throughout the appointment and barely felt the nitrous.
At one point during the drilling, I asked for more nitrous, but they seemed surprised and/or reluctant to turn it up, so I didn’t ask for more after that even though I was still on edge and could barely feel any nitrous (and dentist #1 has told me in the past that I never need much nitrous).
I should also note that dentist #2 suggested doing my two crowns in the same appointment, which meant twice the drilling and twice the amount of time in the chair. I never should have said yes to that – I just wasn’t thinking.
As an anxious dental patient, I should have spaced the visits out. It was a horrid experience having TWO TIMES more drilling than I’ve ever had in a single appointment – especially with barely any nitrous to be felt.
To make matters worse, despite what felt like a dozen novocaine injections in my poor gums, I was still uncomfortable when they worked on one particular tooth. I was jumping a little in the chair, so they stopped to check on me and give me more novocaine shots, but they said it can be hard to get that particular tooth numb enough. Somehow, I made it through.
The next step was for dentist #2 to make my crowns and for me to come back in a couple of weeks to get them put on. Dentist #2 said I might be sore from all the drilling and shots, but that I shouldn’t feel any serious pain. Then, she added that both fillings were fairly deep so it was possible I might feel pain, and if I did, that would mean I might need a root canal in one or both teeth. That was a little alarming to hear, but I hoped for the best.
My mouth was sore the next day – very sore. It felt like more than “day after the dentist” sore. Sure enough, the pain continued to get worse, not better. It was pretty clear I would need a root canal. I’ve had that happen once before, years ago, and this felt the same. It’s an unmistakable pain that requires Advil or Tylenol around the clock.
I called dentist #2 and put my crown appointment on hold. They referred me to an endodontist for the root canal. I went to the endodontist, who I worked with last year as part of my dental implant saga. She is very nice and I highly recommend her. She turns up the nitrous so high that you barely remember even being in her chair!
But here’s the crazy thing: the endodontist and I couldn’t tell which tooth was causing my pain. Because dentist #2 had drilled two teeth down at once, the pain seemed to be coming from both places. Both teeth were on the left side of my mouth at the back, and that’s where the deep pain was emanating from. Even with the endo’s tricks and “torture testing” (my term for it, not hers), we could not pinpoint the exact location of the tooth pain.
So, the endo put me on steroids and told me to come back again in a week. She figured the steroids would calm the pain down to the point where we’d be able to better pinpoint its precise location. So I took the steroids, felt great and went back to the endo after a week, where sure enough she was able to torture test both teeth until one screamed.
Then, she turned up the nitrous and did my root canal, and I don’t remember a thing. I had zero tooth pain after that, and she even called me the next day to check in – something that dentist #1 always used to do, too, which made me really miss dentist #1 again. Dentist #2 didn’t call to check on me even after that marathon double drill session.
In another week or so, I went back to dentist #2 to have my pretty crowns cemented on and put this current season of dental work behind me. I liked the office staff just as much as ever at dentist #2, and I was ready to finish things up. The dental assistant got me ready and said they don’t usually numb people just for crowns being put on, so I didn’t ask for nitrous.
That was a mistake. There ended up being more drilling than I was comfortable with, AND the tooth that didn’t get the root canal started acting up and being painful, so I got novocaine shots and drilling without nitrous – which is about my least favorite thing on the planet. I was tense and a mess.
Should I have told dentist #2 that I had a terrible drilling experience the first time, and that I would prefer nitrous before more novocaine shots and drilling? Possibly, but I didn’t. I felt ashamed for some reason – like I should be able to handle it without taking the edge off that way.
But it gets worse. As dentist #2 was wrapping up getting my crowns in, she used dental floss and managed to slice my outer cheek with it. She didn’t notice and I didn’t say anything because the novocaine numbed my face so I didn’t know how bad it was.
That night, I noticed my cheek was sore but didn’t really think much of it. But the next day, when I woke up, I literally had a “Joker smile” – a cut stretching out from the corner of my mouth. It looked awful and hurt anytime I opened my mouth.
I was worried I was going to end up with a permanent facial scar, but thankfully it healed up after a few days.
But it felt like another strike against dentist #2, big time. I think she is probably good at the teeth part BUT not always as great with patients.
Bottom line: I love the front office staff at dentist #2, and the overall look and feel of the office, and I WANTED to love dentist #2, but I believe my actual doctor at dentist #1 was better.
Dentist #1 had a rude front office staff, but the doctor himself is amazing. He was super careful, cautious and never made mistakes. He treated me like his best friend, even showing me pictures of his dogs. He called or texted after every procedure to check on me. I also don’t think he ever would have recommended doing two crowns in one sitting with an anxious patient like me. And he always made sure I was comfortable and didn’t rush.
So, what would you do in my shoes?! I think I figured it out while writing this all down, but I’d still like others to weigh in. I wish there was some way to combine dentist #2’s front office staff and office vibe with my beloved dentist from dentist #1!
Have you ever had a bad experience at a dentist, and do you think this story counts as a bad experience – or am I being overly dramatic about her making a careless mistake like accidentally slicing my face without realizing it? And obviously, I need to take some responsibility because I should have spoken up more at both appointments.
Should I just suck it up and face dentist #1’s obnoxious front desk people because I love and miss that dentist? Gah, I hate the idea of seeing those ladies who were so cold and mean to me. But there’s no way I can go back to dentist #2, the face slicer, no matter how nice her office and staff are.
I look forward to hearing your take in the comments below or over on Facebook!