He takes any concerns or fears seriously and is willing to work with a patient to calm fears or provide distractions and/or medication to handle anxiety.
He takes any complaint of pain seriously.
He asks about other medical issues that might affect dentistry (in my case, it’s allergies. For my spouse, it’s the hardware in his right leg and diabetes.)
He doesn’t dictate. He lays out your options and tells you the potential consequences of each choice and lets you, the patient, decide.
He has no problem if you want to seek a second opinion.
He is willing to talk about payment plans not just for expensive items, but also for routine care if you’re poor.
Anyone who dismisses your fears, your concerns, or your pain.
Anyone who heavily pushes cosmetic stuff. My dentist offers tooth whitening and veneers, but he doesn’t push them. The strongest “sell” is “have you thought about X?” but if you say you’re not interested it’s no problem. About the only thing he gets pissed over is tongue/mouth piercings.
As calmly as possible, tell the person you’re making an appointment with that you have had bad experiences in the past and you wish to talk to the dentist in person about your concerns and fears. As calmly and concisely as possible state your fears and concerns to the dentist.
For example, I tell every dentist I go to that I do not handle dental pain well, and in the past both pain and fear of pain led me to avoid the dentist for years at a time (true). My fear centers around pain - if there is no pain there is no fear. Being pain free is extremely important to me but I, personally, don’t require being knocked out, gassed, etc. for everything, I just want assurance that if I state something hurts it will be taken seriously and if necessary adequately medicated until there is no more pain.
For other people it’s anxiety. Even if it doesn’t hurt they have fear. You handle that in a different manner. For others, it’s the sounds (in which case a set of headphones and some music might be the answer - just about all dentists these days have some sort of set up to allow for that, or will let you bring your iPod or whatever). The better you can articulate your concerns the more a good dentist can do for you.
One mark of a really good dentist is that if you say “I’m afraid of going to the dentist” he can ask you questions to determine why you are afraid and propose solutions to help with that.