More than words – non-verbal communication in the dental practice

Priya Sharma explores the importance of non-verbal communication and how it can lead to better patient relations

Priya Sharma explores the importance of non-verbal communication and how it can lead to better patient relations. 

It is often what you don’t say that counts. In fact, a very small percentage of your message is conveyed through words.

Non-verbal communication – which comprises posture, facial expression, eye contact, hand gestures, body movements and tone of voice – all can often speak louder than words. It has been said that even silence – accidental or intentional – can transmit a message to another party.

Throughout the interaction the individual will interpret what is said (verbal communication) and what is actually meant (non-verbal communication). Be mindful that the listener decodes both the spoken word and your physical actions to come to the same conclusion.

These unspoken cues are inherent and often come ‘naturally’ to us, therefore, it is imperative we become aware of our non-verbal manner. This awareness will allow us to recognise any negative actions we undertake. We will be able to skilfully improve our non-verbal communication, making it in line with our spoken word.

Empowering your communication will lead to a confident and seamless interaction.

As you are well aware, the aesthetic dental patient will be looking to you as an expert in the field of cosmetic dentistry. Many patients will have spent hours researching their ‘perfect smile’ on the internet. They will be looking for you to meet or exceed their personal expectations.

Patients will have filtered clinicians and, after much contemplation, selected you to create the smile of their dreams.

They will be hyperaware of your every move, so you will need to ensure all your communication delivers in line with each other. Being skillful at the art of communication will allow for an increase in patient satisfaction and successful aesthetic outcomes.


How you say your verbal message, including the tone and volume of your voice, rate of your speech and pauses (eg, uhms, ahs, mhms) is known as paralinguistics.

It has been suggested to use a slower delivery with a softer voice to convey an important message.

Often, there is a cultural basis and one needs to be aware of this when delivering your message.


Proxemics is the distance that people feel it necessary to put in between themselves and others. Make patients feel comfortable.

Dentistry does break the norm of maintaining personal space and some patients may feel intimidated by this.

Hence, it is often suggested to carry out the beginning of every appointment away from the dental chair. Be mindful not to invade personal space when not necessary.


The manner in which body movements can be interpreted is known as kinesics. Good posture, for example, sends a message of professionalism. Avoid fidgeting and distractive behaviour.

Facial expressions

At the heart of non-verbal communication is facial expression. A genuine smile goes a long well. It conveys openness and a true interest in the patient. However, be aware that a fake smile delivers a message of insincerity or mockery.

Remember, almost everyone can distinguish sincerity from a smile.

Maintain appropriate eye contact without staring. Eye contact demonstrates respect for the patient and that you are actively listening to what the patient
is saying. This also paints a picture of full engagement with the patient.

It is also important to keep check of your facial expressions while treating patients clinically. For example, furrowing your eyebrows while treating may indicate to the patient an area of concern or perhaps something is not going as planned.


Non-verbal communication is a powerful tool that will allow you to have a successful positive connection with your patients. Clearly, non-verbal communication will have a greater impact than the spoken word. In addition, it is imperative to keep both verbal and non-verbal communication in line with each other.

This article first appeared in Aesthetic Dentistry Today magazine. You can read the latest issue here.

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