Optimising patient communication

Optimising patient communication

Julie Gillard, dental hygienist from Bryant Dental Practice, shares her experience and offers some advice for improved communication with patients…

Good patient communication is crucial in dentistry. It ensures informed consent, which in turn avoids litigation issues and helps patients improve their oral health. It’s important to explain suggested treatment clearly and then acknowledge that the patient has understood. As such, it’s necessary to consider the amount and delivery of information.


There are many barriers to good communication. These include environmental factors such as distractions in the immediate surroundings and even the temperature of the room. Social factors can also affect the patient’s ability to comprehend information.

In addition, it’s important not to make assumptions. We shouldn’t assume patients understand what we say without checking. We also shouldn’t assume we know how they would like to receive the information we’re providing to them. For example, I offered a patient a written leaflet with all the details we had discussed that day regarding oral hygiene. I later found out that they couldn’t read. This would have been a major barrier if the patient hadn’t felt comfortable enough to tell me.

Building a good rapport with patients is therefore crucial. They need to feel that we are on their side and not just there to dictate to them. I often tell patients when the product or technique that I’m recommending for them is one I use myself, or one I have suggested to my family, to help build their trust and confidence. An effective patient-practitioner relationship enables the continuity of care that our patients deserve.

Top tips for good patient communication

  • Body language – Stay on the same physical level as patients when speaking to them. They should be sat upright and not lying in the chair, allowing proper eye contact.
  • Tone of voice – Tone needs to be calm and friendly in order to encourage trust from the patient.
  • Terminology – It’s important to avoid using too many clinical terms. Judging each situation individually and delivering information with terminology the patient will likely understand, is key.
  • Combined methods – Providing information verbally and in writing can help to improve communication. It provides positive reinforcement and enables patients to review advice in their own home. In addition, it helps remind them about recommendations given for improved oral health.
  • Praise for a good job – Patients need encouragement for continued compliance. They need to understand that we are not here to tell them off – quite the opposite! I would recommend starting with a positive, offering some advice to improve and then ending on a positive. Ultimately, we are there to support them in their oral health in the long-term.
  • A two-way street – Good communication should be a conversation. It involves a discussion to agree on what course of action would best suit the patient to enhance their oral health. In this way, all advice can be properly tailored to the individual.

No one-visit wonders

I often say that I don’t do ‘one-visit wonders’. I want my patients to feel comfortable in my surgery so that they come back. Good communication is a big part of building this rapport and it makes working in dentistry an absolute pleasure.

About the author

Julie Gillard, Dental Hygienist

Julie Gillard, qualified as a dental nurse in 1991 and became a dental hygienist after qualifying from Cardiff Dental School in 1997.

She has worked at a number of practices over the years. She started at Bryant & Associates in 1998 and continued to work there under Rodericks Dental. Julie really enjoys her job, and especially the interaction she experiences with patients and other staff members on a day-to-day basis.

Julie aims to help patients understand how to maintain and improve their oral hygiene and prevent any further disease. She hopes to continue aiding the people in her local community for many years to come, by raising awareness and an understanding of the importance of oral hygiene.


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