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Maryland Study Shows Need for Improved Communication by Dentists

New research from the University of Maryland School of Public Health showed that a majority of dentists and dental hygienists are not regularly using the recommended communication techniques with their patients that contribute to improved health literacy and prevention of oral disease. The study, led by Dr. Alice Horowitz, research associate professor in the department of behavioral and community health and Horowitz Center for Health Literacy, was published in the Journal of Dental Hygiene. Dr. Horowitz and colleagues surveyed 540 Maryland dental hygienists to determine the frequency of the use of 18 recommended communication techniques to effectively communicate science-based information to patients.


Only one basic technique (the use of simple language) was used by over 90 percent of respondents. The respondents who had taken a communication course in a non-dental educational setting were more likely to regularly use varying types of communication techniques.


Dr. Horowitz concluded that dental hygiene education programs should focus on health literacy knowledge and communication skills to improve oral health outcomes. She also recommends the schools of dentistry and hygiene upgrade the communication, listening, and cultural competency skills of practicing dentists and their staff to accommodate the differences in patient satisfaction found in her studies.


This builds on an earlier study Dr. Horowitz conducted to assess patients’ satisfaction with their dental care in connection with varying insurance types. In it, she found those with Medicaid, who have the most compromised oral health, were most dissatisfied with their provider’s communication.