Are you easy to understand? Cheryl Hayes Carestream Dental

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  Posted by: The Probe      8th July 2019

The UK has an incredibly diverse population. As such, it’s no surprise that there are a significant proportion of people who speak English as a second language, and therefore may not have total fluency. Indeed, according to the most recent census, as many as 7.7 million people living in the UK speak a different language from English when they are at home.[i]

For dentists this poses an important question – are your patients fully understanding what you say? Although it’s likely that a large number of these people will have a thorough understanding of the English language, it’s also important to bear in mind that some patients may struggle, and it is your duty as a professional to make yourself completely understood.

A land of many languages

The UK is often seen as a melting pot of cultures, and this is well represented in the sheer amount of languages that UK residents speak besides English. Polish is one of the most popular languages spoken in the country, with as many as 546,000 individuals using it as their first language. Other popular languages in the country include Urdu, Panjabi and Bengali, and French, German and Spanish are also fairly widely spoken.[ii]


What this means for professionals who regularly need to speak with and treat a diverse range of people is that communication skills fast become essential. Of course, it’s impossible to expect dentists to take lessons in languages, or any measure like that, so it’s a good idea to explore alternatives in order to ensure that you can always help your patients understand your proposed treatments.

A better patient experience

There are a multitude of reasons why good communication is important, especially when there are language barriers at play. The first, and arguably most important reason, is that you need your patients to understand your treatment proposals/give informed consent. It’s likely that if someone doesn’t understand a treatment plan then they will reject it, and this can result in a negative impact on both your business and the patient experience – especially if they choose to change practices if they feel their needs are not being met.

Informed consent is also important. There’s a risk that if a patient does agree to a treatment that they don’t fully understand, legal action may be filed if they end up with a result they weren’t expecting. Though you will have a strong defence case if you can prove that they did agree to the treatment, this can still be damaging to your reputation.

Keep it straightforward

When seeing any patients it’s always best to keep your language simple and to the point. No one wants to hear a highly technical explanation of treatment, especially as this can alienate patients if they don’t understand. Therefore, it’s useful to consider – is there an easy way to explain your treatment plan? It’s a good idea to imagine that you know only the fundamentals of dentistry when you are explaining to patients so that you can avoid the jargon and just present the clear facts.

It’s also a good idea to check that patients do understand the information they are being presented. There’s nothing wrong with asking patients questions or even asking them to explain what they think treatment means, so you can manage their expectations and ensure they are consenting to your plans properly.

Pictures are worth a thousand words 

Language barriers can cause considerable challenges, especially if you need to explain treatment of a complex nature. One way to overcome this is to present the information in another, more universal format such as using diagrams, videos and pictures.
The CS R4+ practice management system from Carestream Dental makes this easy with its Communicator Patient Software. Covering over 200 topics and fitted with easy to understand diagrams and animations, this is the perfect way to ensure that your patients understand any treatments you suggest, whilst also helping to ensure that your practice provides a welcoming, understanding atmosphere for all.


A final flourish

It’s also worth considering whether there are any materials you can invest in written in different languages to help patients once they have left your practice. Perhaps you can get a small amount of treatment leaflets printed in different languages? It may not be a big investment but it could make a world of difference to patients.

Universal care

It’s important to ensure that all of your patients – regardless of their language skills – feel comfortable, safe and happy to proceed with treatment. By introducing new methods of communication and other resources you can help ensure that language barriers do not cause any problems.


For more information, contact Carestream Dental on 0800 169 9692 or


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[i]Office for National Statistics. 2011 Census: Quick Statistics for England and Wales, march 2011. Link:

 [Last accessed March 19].


[ii]Financial Times. British Business Will Need Foreign Language Speakers. Link:

 [Last accessed March 19].

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