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Aust Dent J. 2005 Dec;50(4):235-41.

Dentist-patient communication in the multilingual dental setting.

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School of Dentistry, The University of Western Australia, Nedlands.



Communication between dentists and patients can be exceptionally challenging when the patient and the dentist do not speak the same language, as is frequently the case in multicultural Australia. The aim of this study was to describe the issues involved in dealing with limited-English speaking patients in order to formulate recommendations on how to improve dental communication.


A cross sectional study was performed using a postal survey to Australian Dental Association member dental practitioners in Western Australia. Responses were collated and data analysis was performed using SPSS 11.5 for Windows.


Most respondents encounter language-related communication barriers weekly or monthly, and the most satisfactory method of communication is informal interpreters. Despite reporting satisfaction working with professional chairside interpreters or dental staff interpreters, most respondents did not use them. The most common alternative communication methods were diagrams and models. Endodontics and periodontics provided the greatest challenge in communication. Informed consent was reportedly compromised due to language barriers by 29 per cent of respondents. Recommendations to improve communication included access to interpretation services, dentist technique/attitude to communication and patient preparedness for English-speaking encounters.


Many respondents do not utilize the preferential communication methods, creating a potential compromise to both informed consent and the patients' best interests. The use of professional interpreters is recommended, and discussion should be supplemented with means of non-verbal communication. Dentists require access to lists of multilingual dentists and greater awareness of interpretation services to improve multilingual dentist-patient communication.

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