Communication skills are critical in any aspect of health care. In the course a day, a dental assistant might need to communicate effectively with dentists, dental hygienists, other dental assistants, patients, family members, insurance company workers, sales representatives or other dental offices. Ineffective communication increases the risk of misunderstandings and the potential for poor patient outcomes. Effective communication helps ensure the transfer of correct information, promotes better working relationships and soothes patient or family anxiety.
What is Good Communication?
Several skills are necessary for good communication. One of the most important is the ability to listen carefully and comprehend what is being said. In some cases, what is not being said is equally important, so the dental assistant must be able to “hear” beneath the surface to pick up on an unvoiced anxiety or fear. Empathy is the ability to see things from another’s point of view, while sympathy is the ability to feel sorry for another’s misfortunes. A dental assistant must be able to use both facilities to communicate effectively.
Nonverbal communication skills, such as focusing on the speaker, smiling when appropriate and nodding to convey agreement, are as important as what one says. If a dental assistant crosses their arms, taps their fingers impatiently or roll their eyes, the other person will often react defensively and stop communicating. Good communication skills take practice and awareness, and the ability to learn from one’s mistakes.
Communication in the Front Office
In many dental offices, the dental assistant wears multiple hats. They may answer phones, schedule appointments, work chair-side with the dentist, order supplies and manage billing. This brings the dental assistant into contact with a wide range of people of different ages, educational backgrounds and cultures. For example, they must have the ability to communicate with a frightened child or an elderly woman who has diminished hearing. Interruptions are the norm and the front office position can be stressful. However, allowing stress to take over can impede communication, so stress management becomes an important aspect of communication in this role.
Communicating with the Dentist
Dental assistants provide hands-on support to the dentist during the care of patients. A good dental assistant learns to anticipate what the dentist will need next. It’s important to stay focused on the task and listen to the dentist’s requests to help ensure an efficient work process. Working efficiently also helps make patients feel more secure. At the same time, the dental assistant must stay aware of the patient’s responses and emotions. A frightened patient may pull away at the wrong moment. The dental assistant can help soothe and comfort the patient with words or a gentle touch.
Communicating with Hygienists
In most offices, hygienists work alone. However, the dental assistant may assist with stocking rooms or escorting patients to their room for an appointment. It’s important to set the patient at ease. If it’s a new patient, the dental assistant may perform an introduction. In some offices with multiple hygienists, the dental assistant may act as a “runner.” In this situation, it’s important to convey messages clearly and concisely and to listen carefully to ensure the right supplies are obtained.
Dental assistants may also perform some basic patient education. One of the most important aspects of patient education is to maintain awareness of the patient’s comprehension of the material. Research indicates that as many as 1 in 7 adult patients may be functionally illiterate, according to Intellectual Takeout from The Charlemagne Institute. Yet most educational materials come in printed form. The dental assistant must remain sensitive to the fact that the patient may be embarrassed to admit he or she cannot read. Reviewing the material together rather than just providing handouts is the safest course. Patients are more likely to ask questions in this sort of one-on-one session.
Culture & Communication
Culture has a big impact on communication. For example, in some cultures, it is considered disrespectful to meet another person’s eyes for any length of time. This can make it seem as though the individual is not listening. Words may have different connotations in different languages. When it comes to patient education, the patient may not have a written language or may be unable to read English. The dental assistant must be sensitive to verbal and non-verbal cues to assure the patient or family member understands what is being said. If an interpreter is necessary, the dental assistant must be able to have a three-way conversation in order to convey the necessary information.
One of the great disadvantages of telephone communication is that a dental assistant cannot see the person on the other end. Since we often depend on body language cues to determine if another person understands what is being said it is critical to listen to the other person’s tone of voice and to pay attention to pauses, sighs, volume, pace or other indicators of a communication problem. Always clarify misunderstandings immediately.
Conflict is a normal occurrence in any kind of human interaction. A patient wants an appointment at a time that is unavailable or a dental assistant has a misunderstanding with a co-worker. The ability to communicate effectively can result in a resolution, while poor communication skills can make things worse. In conflict resolution, a dental assistant will use the facilities of empathy, careful listening, and nonverbal communication. However, a dental assistant must also manage their own emotions and stress. If they practice good communication skills, conflict resolution becomes much easier. Restate the other person’s words. This makes it clear a dental assistant is listening and will clear up miscommunication. Focus on a solution rather than who is right.
Good communication skills are not hard to learn. However, they do take practice. Once a dental assistant uses these skills consistently, they will find many benefits in their work as a dental assistant. In addition, good communication skills are useful in one’s personal life as well. Always remember the basics: listening carefully, awareness of non-verbal communication, respect for cultural differences, reiterating back what you hear and being empathetic.
Did learning about dental assistant communication skills interest you? Still deciding whether you want to become a dental assistant? Ready to learn more about a program that will help you become a dental assistant? The Dental Assistant Program prepares a graduate to work as an entry-level Dental Assistant, Dental Receptionist, Office Manager or Dental Hygienist Assistant in a dental office, specialty practice, or dental clinic.? PCI Health Training Center Richardson, TX Campus offers the dental assistant program. Contact PCI Health Training Center for more information on how to become a dental assistant and start a rewarding career today.
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