The dentist-patient relationship: It’s all about trust [Archives:2007/1106/Health]

November 26 2007

Dr. Moein Pourahmari
Research at Malak Dental Center in Sana'a, where I work, shows that most people maintain an enjoyable relationship with one dentist for long periods. Our study found that:

– 80 percent of patients have had the same dentist for three or more years

– 75 percent of patients reported a relationship lasting five or more years

– 45 percent of patients have reported to the same dentist for 10 years

Such research suggests that these patients value a strong dentist-patient relationship.

So, how can you develop this type of dentist-patient relationship? The key word is trust. Because this relationship is built on trust, the best way to establish trust is to have good communication between you and your dentist.

By engendering feelings of ease and confidence in his or her abilities, a skilled dentist can allay a patient's fears and render the dental experience a pleasant and painless one. A heightened sense of trust further facilitates a patient's interactions with the dentist, provides a greater feeling of satisfaction with services provided and promotes therapeutic compliance.

In the dentist-patient relationship, trust comes from the assurance that personal information will remain confidential, that any procedures are in the patient's best interest and that patient autonomy is recognized.

To keep communication rolling, you may want to ask your dentist the following questions:

– Can you give me step-by-step explanations as you examine my oral health needs?

– What treatment options are there regarding my specific needs?

– Which of these options will yield the best outcome for me?

– What should be treated now and what can be treated later?

Determining the right dentist

All patients must decide for themselves if their rapport with their dentist is satisfactory because everybody is different and everyone expects different things from a strong dentist-patient relationship. Generally, though, quality, comfort and cost are the main factors patients should consider when building a relationship with their dentist.

Quality and comfort

Every dentist is responsible for providing quality, patient-specific oral health care in accordance with professional and practice standards and guidelines. Patient-specific means that your care is a decision made by you and your dentist together, based on your personal oral health care needs and circumstances.

Patient satisfaction with his or her dentist is largely dependent on specific patient preferences, as the opinion of what makes a good dentist and a good dentist-patient relationship may very well differ from patient to patient.

Ultimately, only a patient can decide if he or she is comfortable with his or her dentist. Patients are responsible for finding a dentist they are comfortable with and one who responds to their needs and concerns.

Dentist responsibilities

Always get a cost estimate from your dentist before treatment begins and ask him or her to explain any aspect of treatment or cost about which you have questions.

In order to build upon the foundation of trust in the dentist-patient relationship, it's imperative that dentists follow certain guidelines during their consultations. While they have the right to offer an honest opinion or even a second opinion, dentists always should act within the jurisdiction of fairness and truthfulness and in the patient's best interests.

Improving their communication skills should be another important priority of dentists as they strive to make the dental experience pleasurable and worthwhile for patients. Accomplishing this likely will have dual benefits, the first being that by displaying genuine sympathy and interest in the patient as an individual, the dentist may make him or her feel more at ease, thereby assuaging those who exhibit dental fear and anxiety.

The second and potentially most significant benefit of improved dentist-patient communication may be to foster continuity in regularly seeking dental care and encouraging the patient to adopt a more active role in maintaining proper oral health.

Besides being more personable, dentists also need to understand their patients' various ethnic and/or cultural backgrounds in order to better accommodate their individual needs and concerns while still showing respect for their values and beliefs.

However, the most pressing issue dentists should attend to is the issue of patient involvement in the decision-making process. Offering longer and more thorough consultations likely will lead to a greater willingness to participate, while informing patients of their rights and the circumstances surrounding their case may encourage more active debate.

Dr. Moein Pourahmari is a dentist and maxillofacial surgeon, as well as a lecturer at Sana'a University's Faculty of Dentistry.