While some people may have the misconception that dentistry is a profession in which you are simply drilling and filling teeth with minimal communication with the patient, this is untrue. Dentistry has evolved from an “extension for prevention” to a “minimally invasive” mindset1, emphasizing patient-centered communication.
The Canadian Dental Association states that the goal of effective communication is “to empower your patients with the knowledge required to make an informed decision about their oral health. It is up to us to communicate our goals and expert opinions about our patient's oral health so that you and your patient can determine the best treatment option2.”
Here, we will discuss the importance of patient-centered communication and how it relates to dentistry.
Trust is the foundation of a strong relationship between a patient and a dentist. As a dental healthcare provider, the dentist is responsible for providing effective care for the patient.
Effective care components are making diagnoses, planning treatment, and building rapport with the patient. Many dentists are extremely knowledgeable about the field. They can formulate a diagnosis and good treatment plan for the patient, but only those who have a rapport with their patient will develop the essential element of trust.
Without trust, patients are more hesitant to accept the dentist's knowledge. They may also be more reluctant to disclose social history or lifestyle habits that may impact treatment. Trust allows a patient to have confidence in their dentist. They will know that they will be guided in the right direction while maintaining their autonomy to make the ultimate decision for their treatment.
Good communication with a patient is critical for informed consent. The patient becomes well informed by explaining - in simple, straightforward terms - the dental procedure and the chance of adverse effects.
They will have clear expectations of the risks and benefits of the treatment. Explaining the process to the patient creates a space for the patient to ask questions to clear up any misinterpretations.
Altogether, this allows the patient to have enough information and understanding to provide informed consent. Informed consent also benefits the dentist as it helps prevent dental malpractice cases.
Patient-centered communication lets you know each individual patient and any medical conditions that may affect their dental care. Some medical conditions may impact a patient's range of motion, so it's imperative to adapt to accommodate the patient appropriately.
Some patients may require modifications to the length or any stressors in the procedure if their conditions may make treatment more challenging. Some patients may face obstacles in maintaining good oral hygiene due to psychological or dexterity conditions.
Another key factor in personalized care is the medical history disclosed by the patient to help the dentist evaluate the risk of drug-drug interactions and allergic reactions. The key is to know your patient by practicing patient-centered communication to develop personalized care for each individual.
Lastly, you want your patient to feel comfortable. Developing trust, getting informed consent, and creating personalized care all play into helping the patient feel comfortable sitting in the dental chair.
Comfort helps reduce stress during dental care, allowing the patient a more enjoyable experience. Furthermore, it will also increase patient retention in your office in the future. Stress reduction is also a good management technique for medical conditions exacerbated during stressful situations.
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After learning about patient-centered communication, you may be interested in learning more insights about the profession of a dentist.
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Murdoch-Kinch CA, McLean ME. Minimally invasive dentistry. J Am Dent Assoc. 2003;134(1):87-95. doi:10.14219/jada.archive.2003.0021
Patient communication guide - Cda-adc.ca. Accessed July 20, 2022. https://www.cda-adc.ca/_files/practice/practice_management/patient_communications/guides/dentalguide-ab.pdf