Q. A relative told me of your column. I live in Eastern Connecticut but thought that you may be able to give me direction with a problem. I am a mid-20-year-old woman and admit that I have feared the dentist for my entire life and have not been in a number of years. I went in July of this year and was told I had a lot of cavities.

I went back later that month and they filled two on my bottom left. I went back a few days later in severe pain and was told that I should expect that for months, that I should take Advil and "get over it." The pain continues and I went to a local hospital emergency room with pain and swelling of my face and a fever. They gave me an antibiotic and something for pain. The pain continues and I went to another dentist who took new X-rays and told me I had many more cavities and the one that was done was not drilled out properly and that is why I had an infection. I do not know what to do. Can you give me some advice?


A. You have been enduring a horrible situation and first and foremost you need to find a dentist that you can trust. The first one you told me about seemed to be very unsympathetic to your problem. My experience is that most of my dental colleagues would never act that way and your decision to seek treatment elsewhere was a good one. My problem with the second dentist you chose is that he/she immediately criticized the prior doctor. Before they made any judgement on prior care, their focus should only be on eliminating your discomfort.

In my experience, patients often misinterpret what the dentist may say especially when they are very fearful of seeking treatment in the first place. Often your emotions are so overwhelming that you the patient may not have heard anything that the dentist discussed with you. If I were the second dentist, I would determine where your acute and severe pain is coming from without any discussion about prior treatment. Once I was able to free you from all that horrible pain, I would then have you back for a visit to include a thorough examination, any new films that might be needed and then go over all of your treatment needs if indeed there were any.

If it is true that you had a great deal of dental decay, then I would carefully go over with you what the reason for this might be. Was it just neglect and time passing, was it a diet problem, was there something that you were born with that made your teeth more susceptible to decay? The point being is that I would perform no treatment other than emergency care to get you out of pain until the complete and thorough examination was complete and you knew everything that you had to know to improve your oral health and eliminate the disease that is now present as well as teaching you how to avoid this kind of horror in the future.

Here is a link to some of my former columns where you can read much more about my thoughts on how to find a good dentist and many others to educate you about the dental profession overall: https://bit.ly/2lU6d5d

Since you say you are in Connecticut, I would tell you that the University of Connecticut has a wonderful dental school in Farmington. I know you are a bit of a distance away but if in spite of your efforts and my suggestions, you still are having a problem with care, I believe you can go to the dental clinic there and be reasonably assured of receiving proper treatment.

I wish you all the best and hope that I was of some help in directing you to find proper dental care from a good, caring and compassionate dentist. There are many around. You just have to be diligent in seeking one out.

Dr. Richard Greenberg of Ipswich practiced dentistry for 45 years after having attended dental school at Columbia University, where he was later an associate clinical professor of restorative dentistry and facilitator of the course of ethics. Do you have a dental question or comment about the column? Email him at dr.richard@nothingbutthetooth.org.