The power of communication in dentistry

communicationSeb Evans reports from Practice Plan’s latest Workshop Tour where Barry Oulton discusses the importance of communication and how to effectively talk to patients.

Communication is key to modern dentistry.

Effective communication not only allows informed consent, but it can also help reduce the number of complaints a practice might receive.

The DDU lists communication as one of the top eight most common issues raised when dentists contact the indemnifier. And much of the digital dentistry sector is built on the back of effectively communicating any problems and treatments with patients.

The COVID pandemic also highlighted how communication can change a practice’s fortunes. During successive lockdowns, private dentistry was propped up by dental plans. And this was largely due to effective communication from dental teams with their patients.

Many NHS practices are now looking to make the move towards private dentistry. And for some, this is because of the lack of communication from NHS leaders on the future of dental care.

Effective communication

Practice Plan is currently running its Workshop Tour focusing on the importance of communication in dentistry. Coming to a location near you, Barry Oulton teaches delegates how to effectively communicate with patients and influence them in a positive way.

‘The overriding theme is about communication,’ Barry explains.

‘The problem for me is, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. It’s about sharing things that make people aware of the fact that we can do things in a different way.

‘We highlight where we miscommunicate, how we build rapid rapport and the benefits of that. It’s about the power of language, that certain words subconsciously influence people.

‘This workshop is for anybody that lives and breathes in dentistry.

‘Mindset is a choice. You don’t realise you can choose your mindset. Life doesn’t happen to us; life happens for us. Once you realise this it empowers us to make better choices.’

How do we communicate?

Communication isn’t something that is commonly taught within dentistry. However, effective communication can help practices handle concerns, objections and respond to complaints and enquiries elegantly on the phone.

During the day Barry highlights four major areas of miscommunication in the practice:

  • What you said
  • What you meant
  • What your patient heard
  • What your patient thought you meant.

‘Communication is just the exchanging of information’ Barry points out. There is usually a breakdown in communication when information isn’t given clearly enough for the recipient to understand.

But communication is more than just what we say too. We can break it down into three areas:

  • Tonality (38%)
  • Physiology (55%)
  • Words (7%).

During the day, Barry explains how it’s not just what we’re saying, but also how the way we deliver our words impacts the way patients understand what we’re saying.

The real message is not what you’re saying, it’s in how you say it.

Delegates took part in practical exercises learning how to build rapport with each other. As well as how to break rapport and the mannerisms that might cause offence without realising.

The magic of language

The words we use still have an impact on what patients think.

Barry points out that our subconscious mind does not process negatives. For example, if we say: ‘Don’t drop the glass’, our subconscious mind will think about dropping the glass. And because we’re constantly thinking about it, we’re more likely to drop the glass.

‘When it comes to reassuring our patient, we need to recognise negativity or creating an internal representation that we don’t want,’ Barry points out.

Dental advertising often includes terms such as ‘pain-free dentistry’. But this could create an internal representation of painful dentistry. Instead, Barry encourages dentists to focus on positivity, ‘comfortable dentistry’.

The word ‘but’ also negates everything you say before it. For example: ‘The crown is the best choice for that tooth “but” I can fill it, which is cheaper’. In this example, patients will most likely ignore everything said before but.

Barry encourages dental teams to swap the word but for ‘and’. This allows patients to weigh up both choices equally.

‘Best speaker we’ve seen’

This workshop is so important because, as Barry points out: ‘Patients care about how they feel and that they are looked after.’

They’re much more likely to compliment a beautiful journey than beautiful dentistry.

Following the day, Rob Tennet, from St John’s Dental Practice, said: ‘We’ve come along today for some team building. We come along to these annually and find them really useful. The topics are always good for the whole team.

‘This one is great. There’s a lot of interesting material that, as a group, we think is good to share around.

‘This day will definitely help the dental team.’

Hannah Mark, from Whitehouse Dental Practice, said: ‘We come every year to the Workshop Tour, just to see what’s new, what we can work on. 

‘We really like Barry, he’s the best speaker we’ve seen.

‘He’s certainly given us some tips that we’re going to take away and implement in the practice. Specifically, how we’re going to talk to each other, and the tone of what we say etc.

‘I’d definitely recommend people come along and listen to Barry.’

For more information, about the Practice Plan Workshop Tour, which is exclusive to Practice Plan and Medenta members, and to find out where and when the closest event is to you, visit

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