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Dentists often receive extensive training in technical communication, mastering the complex vocabulary and concepts essential for their field. While this technical expertise is invaluable when consulting with colleagues and peers, it can become a barrier in patient interactions. Patients, generally unfamiliar with dental jargon, may feel overwhelmed or disconnected when faced with terminology they don't understand. The challenge, then, is for dentists to bridge the gap between their technical knowledge and effective patient communication.


Dentists must navigate the delicate balance of conveying necessary information without resorting to overly technical language. The use of dental jargon, while second nature to the practitioner, can alienate patients, creating a sense of intimidation or confusion. It's crucial to regularly check in with patients to gauge their understanding and comfort level. However, the way these check-ins are conducted is just as important as the check-ins themselves.


Asking patients if they understood the information can inadvertently come across as condescending or patronizing. Phrases like “Did you get it?” or “Should I dumb it down?” can make patients feel inadequate or embarrassed about their level of comprehension. To avoid this, dentists should adopt a more empathetic and respectful approach to ensure that the communication is both clear and accessible.


A more effective strategy involves asking open-ended questions that invite patients to express their needs and concerns. For example, saying “Was my explanation helpful to you?” or “Is there anything else that I can clarify for you?” shows that the dentist values the patient’s understanding and is willing to adapt the conversation to meet their needs. This not only avoids making the patient feel inferior but also opens the door to a more interactive and engaging dialogue.


By adjusting their communication style, dentists can create a more inclusive and welcoming environment. Patients feel respected and valued, not just as recipients of dental care but as active participants in their health decisions. This approach enhances the patient experience, leading to better understanding, trust, and satisfaction with the care provided.


While technical expertise is a cornerstone of dental professionalism, effective patient communication demands a shift from technical jargon to clear, respectful, and empathetic dialogue. By focusing on the patient’s perspective and fostering open communication, dentists can enhance the overall care experience, ensuring that patients feel understood, respected, and more connected to their oral health journey.

Nate Jeal, DMD

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