Management + Leadership

ˈden-tə-strē : An Urban Dictionary approach to patient communication


Do you sometimes feel like the patient just doesn’t understand what you are trying to say to them—even if you think your explanation is perfectly clear? Take a minute to watch the video below in a classic scene between Joey and Phoebe on the hit-show “Friends.”

In terms of the conscious language choices that we make in the patient-student relationship, it is easy to have misunderstandings, misinterpretations and misjudgments. Just look at Joey and Phoebe, for example.

As students, we can become so immersed within our didactic environments that deca-syllabic words creep into the realm of “normal.” Not to mention (and don’t lie to yourself, because we’ve all done it) we have this temptation to mention that Mona Lisa margin or an elusive tripod contact. But does the patient care that the word “thermoplasticity” flows off of your tongue like silk, or that your axiopulpal line angle is impeccably tapered?

The honest answer is no. Our patients are wired differently. An office visit is one person interacting with another. It’s very real and very human. With that in mind, most patients will tell you that they care most about relationships, how you make them feel, and the that way your conversations encourage relatability.

So, the next question on the chopping block: how can the dental language become more relatable? Simple. And I literally mean make it simple. Talk dentistry in terms that they can grasp. If we use relatable language that engages the patient, we welcome them into our world—and they bring us into theirs. We can either quickly win the patient over or exclude them based upon the word-choice that we use.

Below are a few analogies and concepts inspired by Dr. Louis Sommerhalter and Dr. William Brachvogel (my Midwestern University-CDMAZ Clinical Faculty) that may be used to describe terms and procedures to your patients. Consider it a dental Urban Dictionary: a means of mainstreaming today’s dental lingo for the patient. Give some of them a try in discussion and see what works for you! My professors encourage us to place our own flavors and twists on these types of concepts. The clinic is your practice arena, so begin exercising your interpersonal skills now.

  1. Zirconia \ˌzər-ˈkō-nē-ə\ (noun) : Try describing it to your patient as “tooth-colored gold.” If they are going to receive a zirconia restoration, you can explain how it is a strong material (like gold) that maintains a modern, esthetic result (like porcelain).
  1. Implant \im-ˈplant\ (noun) : Instead of describing an implant like a “screw” that we “drill in,” try explaining to the patient that they’ll be winning back a “metal root.” This implant of theirs will be their “anchor” that can support and hold their new tooth.
  1. Composite \käm-ˈpä-zət\ (noun) : This one seems obvious, but you’d be surprised when the words “resin” or “composite” pop into your conversation without you realizing it. Go back to basics. Use the word “tooth-colored filling.” Much of the process of relating to the patient comes from your conscious practice of your language choices.
  1. Extract \ek-ˈstrakt\ (verb) : The more aware you are of euphemistic language, the better—especially when the patients don’t like to hear the words “pull,” “yank” or “extract.” Let the patient know that you’ll be “gently removing” two teeth today. Frame it in a comfortable and less intimidating light.
  1. Abutment \ə-ˈbət-mənt\ (noun) : Explain to the patient that we need a way to connect two things together (their crown and their implant, for example). The abutment is their “trailer hitch ball.” This description helps them visualize how the abutment is anchored to one thing (implant) and acts as the attachment interface on its other end (to house the restoration).
  1. Endo \ˌen-dō\ (dental-slang noun) : The notoriety of the “root canal” can scare the patient. Their first thoughts won’t be pretty if they imagine it as a ripping-out of their nerve. Broach the “endo” topic with some conscious care. Simply describe their procedure as a “deep filling.”
  1. Osseointegration \ˌäs-ē-ō-ˌint-ə-ˈgrā-shən\ (noun) : Though inaccurate at an anatomical level, try chatting about this process to a patient like “a new tree that has to take roots in the ground.” Conceptually, they will be able to understand this. It may be an effective approach in explaining the time that it takes for the implant to root itself in their bone and why we sometimes cannot immediately load their implant for a few months.

Comment on this post with some of your other favorite and effective methods of describing dental language to your patients. It would be a pleasure to hear from you!

~Tyler Fix, Midwestern-Arizona ’17

Tyler Fix

Tyler is an avid tennis player, skier, and University of Arizona sports fan (Bear Down!) Out in the "Wild West" of Midwestern University-AZ. He enjoys being an active student on campus, carrying roles as ASDA Chapter Vice President, ASDA District 10 Fundraising Co-Chair, and Class of 2017 Council President.

You may also like ...

1 Comment

  1. LaJoi Wiggins says:

    Awesome article Tyler!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.