© Catalin205 | Dreamstime.com
Dreamstime M 49171891

Dear Patient: 9 things we wish you wouldn't do at the dentist

June 3, 2022
Let's get real—there are some things patients do that their dental team really wishes they wouldn't. From lying about their home care to using their phones, Amanda Hill, BSDH, RDH, spells them out.

We all have stuff that drives us crazy. For dental professionals, patients are sometimes one of them. Don’t get me wrong. We love you. We entered health care because we have a passion for caring for people and making a difference. But that doesn’t mean nothing gets under our skin. Check out some of our biggest pet peeves (and maybe think about not doing them next time you’re at the dentist).

Saying “I hate the dentist”

You wouldn’t believe how many patients say how much they hate us as we bring them back for their appointment. While I understand it’s not me personally, it does grate on a person over time to hear you are hated. If going to the dentist is not your favorite thing, by all means, let your provider know that you’re nervous or fearful—but try not to make it about your provider. Trust me, we’ve heard it already!

Not disclosing your medical history

We are part of your health-care team, so we need to understand what’s happening in your whole body because it’s connected to your oral health. Having patients refuse to fill out medical history forms or simply say “no changes” only to find out that they had a stroke two weeks ago when the dentist comes in for their exam not only drives us bonkers; it can also compromise your care. Please come to your appointment with a list of medications and let us know what’s happening with your health.


We know you haven’t been flossing or brushing for two minutes or whatever tale you’re telling. Seriously, you aren’t fooling anyone. If you aren’t going to follow through with one of our home care recommendations, tell us. We might be able to recommend something that you can commit to that could positively impact your oral health.

Not lying back, opening your mouth wide, or turning your head

I get it; you feel like you’re standing on your head when we lay you back. And if you’re already fearful of the dentist, this is a vulnerable position. But I need you to think about us for a minute. If you refuse to lie back, I’m forced to turn my body into some excruciating positions. And over time, that could jeopardize my health and my career. The more compliant you can be about lying back, actually turning your whole head (not just shifting your eyes), and staying open wide, the better we can treat you and remain in our career. If you genuinely are uncomfortable or have medical issues that make lying back hard, let us know and be willing to try using pillows to help or a bite block to keep your mouth open.

Refusing to swallow your own saliva

I promise your saliva does not turn toxic once we put our hands in your mouth. Unless we tell you not to, it is safe to swallow. Sitting up to spit or needing suction every few minutes makes the appointment take longer and is really frustrating. On that note, though, don’t get too close with the saliva ejector. Some patients love closing their lips around the suction and moving it around their mouth. You are exposing yourself to backflow from the previous patients' saliva. Yes, that’s gross!

Waiting to go to the bathroom until we call you back

Seriously, you’ve been sitting in the reception room for 10 minutes, and NOW you have to go, right when I’m bringing you back? Jeepers, we have a hard enough time staying on time. Help me out here. Please do your best to be on time and be ready to pop into the chair when you are called back.

Using your phone during the appointment

Speaking of staying on time, please put your cell phone away. This is a medical appointment. You holding your phone in front of your face while I’m trying to look in your mouth gets in my way. And stopping your procedure to answer phone calls and then proceeding to take that call is downright offensive. Unless it’s a true emergency, silence your phone and let us take care of your health.

Only doing the treatment your insurance covers

Your insurance company is not looking out for your best interests, but your dental team is. There might be treatment that our antiquated, profit-driven insurance industry has not deemed worthy, despite those decision-makers not having gone to dental school. If the treatment plan we recommend is overwhelming, ask us how we break it down into something you do have the time, energy, and money for.

Bonus—but then wanting your teeth whitened!

No matter what, do not refuse a treatment plan when there is disease present in your mouth and then ask to get your teeth whitened! Cavities, abscesses, and gum disease are infections. We need to take care of those before we worry about cosmetics. We will be more than happy to incorporate that into your treatment plan, but please let’s do the necessary stuff first.

In truth, we will put up with everything above and still treat you like our favorite patient. But with the high rate of burnout happening across all industries, it would be a win-win if you made our day a little bit easier: We’ll have a better appointment, and your health will benefit.