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19-05-2011 | Oral medicine | Article

Communication between US dentists and patients needs improving


Free abstract

MedWire News: A survey has shown that use of patient-oriented communication techniques by US dentists is low and could be improved.

Good communication between dentists and patients is known to lead to several benefits including reduced patient anxiety, increased adherence to treatment and healthy behaviours, and better oral health outcomes.

To determine what techniques are used, R Gary Rozier (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA) and colleagues mailed an 86-item questionnaire to a random sample of 6300 US dentists in private practice.

Participants reported how often they used 18 communication techniques on a weekly basis by the use of a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 0 (never) to 4 (always).

The 18 communication techniques were grouped into five domains: interpersonal communication (five techniques); teach-back method (two techniques); patient-friendly materials and aids (three techniques); assistance (five techniques); and patient-friendly practice (three techniques). The interpersonal communication and teach-back methods are considered by literacy experts to be basic skills for health professionals.

A total of 2010 (33.4%) dentists returned questionnaires, the characteristics of whom were similar to those of the American Dental Association member database.

Reporting in the Journal of the American Dental Association, Rozier et al note that participants reported routinely using an average of 7.1 of the 18 techniques, and 3.1 of the seven basic techniques during a typical working week.

Of concern, less than one fourth of dentists used any of the techniques under the patient-friendly practice or teach-back method domains.

Characteristics that affected the use of communication techniques were dentist's age, race/ethnicity, education outside of the USA, and area of dentistry practised.

The authors therefore conclude that "dentist's routine use of techniques is less than what is needed to meet the needs of all patients."

They suggest that "the dental profession needs to develop and disseminate communications guidelines and tool kits for practising oral health professionals."

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Iain Bartlett

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