official. In this day and age, we’ve become a nation of ‘distrusters’. Where we
once had an uneasy belief that politicians would do the right thing when it
came to making important decisions about the country we live in, now we simply
don’t trust them. What about the Police? There was a time when a policeman used
to walk down the street and people used to look up to them with respect as they
passed by. Not any more. What about doctors? Maybe… but there have been way
too many medical scandals and besides, there’s always Google as a second
opinion! So where does that leave dentists? After all, they’re just people who
happen to be in the business of making money out of selling ‘perfect smiles’
right? The good news is that even in this mistrusting world, evidence points to
the fact that the majority of people do still trust their
a large survey carried out by the General Dental Council (GDC) back in 2011,
73% of people were confident in their dentist’s abilities and as a result were
satisfied with the treatment and service they had been given. However, out of
the remaining 27% who stated a lack of confidence in their dentist, there was
one underlying factor that most people agreed on and that’s communication; or
rather, the lack of it!
that was through:
• A lack of information about
the treatment and what’s involved
• A lack of transparency
• A poor level of follow up
• Poor communication skills
pretty obvious that if dentists really want patients to trust them, then they
need to be better communicators. This echoes the sentiments for dealing with
nervous or anxious patients, because communication is also at the very heart of
making an anxious patient feel relaxed and ‘okay’ with the situation.
an example… A dentist keen on getting the best job done who talks in terms of
‘malocclusions’, or the ‘upper right quadrant’ isn’t really
pursuing communicative, patient-centred care and that’s the key here.
switch that around and consider a dentist that explains the procedure they’re
about to perform in simplified laymen’s terms – one who listens to the
patient’s needs/requirements and is empathetic to the patient’s situation. You
see where this is going right?
soft skills of communication
problem for dentists is that while they may have exceptional clinical skills
and oral health knowledge, nobody teaches the softer skills of effective
patient communication. In its most basic form, building trust with good patient
care consists of listening to, and responding to, the needs of the patient and
while there are plenty of patient needs, a few important ones really stand out.
Let’s take a look at some of them…
• Empathy – A patient needs to know
that you fully understand their situation and appreciates their needs and
• Friendliness – This probably goes without
saying and anyway…a smile goes a long way
• Punctuality and efficiency – Being on time shows
respect to the patient
• Information – Patients want to know about
the costs and services you offer, so always try to be as transparent as you
• Options – Take the time to explain
the various treatment options available for their condition and ensure they
fully understand what those are.
• Control – Involve the patient at
every stage of their treatment. They need to feel that they’re an important
part of their own treatment plan.
the bottom line…
the softer skills of good communication and you may have cracked it. To prove a
point, how about we flip this on its head and see what the portrait of the
‘ideal dentist’ from a patient perspective is…
• Confidence – It’s fair to say that
confidence projects confidence so if the dentist exudes an air of calmness and
assurance then it’s likely to reflect on the patient.
• Humane – Patients need to know that
the dentist isn’t going to cause them pain, so a caring, compassionate, and
kind demeanour is key.
• Engaging – By being interested in the
patient’s views, engaging with them and treating them as an individual, it’s a
great way to gain trust from a new patient.
• Honest – Honesty is always the best
policy so no ‘sugar-coating’. Tell them what they need to know in plain,
• Respectful – Showing the patient that
you take their input seriously is vital for building key elements of trust
• Thorough – Finally, a dentist who is
both persistent and conscientious is more often than not, a dentist that’s
what’s the common denominator amongst these two sets of requirements? Yes
you’ve guessed it….communication! Its importance when dealing with patients
cannot be underestimated. While improving yours will help to build better trust
with patients and therefore cement long-term patient-dentist relations, it’s
also going to serve to make you an all-round better clinician. So take the time
to start improving your patient communication and you should hopefully see