Preventing communication breakdowns impacts oral health

By Elizabeth Hillaker Downs • Published: September 24th, 2014
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

When you think about factors that contribute to healthy teeth and gums, several things probably come to mind: brushing your teeth regularly, flossing and avoiding sugary drinks. What probably didn’t occur to you is how well you and your dentist communicate with each other. However, this spring, University of Florida researchers discovered that patient-dentist communication plays an important role in the oral health of rural, low-income Americans.

In fact, some people may find it so difficult to understand their dentists that they miss out on forming good dental habits like flossing and visiting the dentist regularly. This situation stems from dentists using complex medical language or failing to explain concepts to their patients.

This lack of communication ultimately leads to poor oral health and more expensive and complex dental treatments down the road. Patients remain unaware of crucial information regarding their conditions and the importance of taking preventive measures. This can have serious consequences, as poor oral health has been linked with other major health problems, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

However, researchers say that dentists can overcome this communication barrier by avoiding technical medical terms and revising their educational materials. Only 20 percent of oral health education materials are written at an appropriate reading level.

Placing dental patients at the center of communication is the first step in helping rural, low-income Americans achieve better oral health and lower the risk of other diseases.