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J Public Health Dent. 2009 Spring;69(2):90-4. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-7325.2008.00105.x.

A survey of North Carolina safety-net dental clinics' methods for communicating with patients of limited english proficiency (LEP).

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Department of Dental Ecology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA.



Dental providers are increasingly challenged in communicating with patients with limited English proficiency (LEP). Accordingly, the purpose of the study was to examine methods of communicating with patients with LEP in North Carolina (NC) safety-net dental clinics as perceived by dental staff.


An anonymous, 36-item, cross-sectional survey was distributed to representatives of 68 NC safety-net dental clinics. Question domains included: a) a perceived need for language services; b) methods of language services provided; c) perceptions of dental staff about dental care experiences for patients with LEP; and d) perceived legal and financial roles in providing language services.


Of the 68 clinics, 55 responded (81 percent). All clinics reported treating patients with LEP, and 93 percent of clinics reported a need for providing language services. Many clinics used multiple methods to provide language services. Some clinics reported differences in treatment recommendations (13 percent), treatment provided (19 percent), and visit length (61 percent) for patients with LEP. All responded that additional costs are incurred to treat patients with LEP, and only 69 percent of responding clinics recognized legal obligations of treating patients with LEP.


There is a reported need for language services in NC safety-net dental clinics. These services often resulted in additional costs to the dental clinic. To maintain the quality of care and to comply with legal requirements related to dental patients with LEP, additional funding sources might be required to recruit multilingual staff, support language services in dental clinics, and provide language skills training for practicing dentists. Additionally, studies are suggested to measure the perception of the effectiveness of communication methods of patients with LEP.

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