Patient Understanding of Oral Healthcare Jargon

Eric T. Stoopler, DMD


June 19, 2015

Common Maxillofacial Terminology: Do Our Patients Understand What We Say?

Dua R, Vassiliou L, Fan K
Surgeon. 2015;13:1-4

Communication in Oral Healthcare

Communication is a cornerstone of human interactions and should not be underestimated in the context of the doctor-patient relationship. Individuals entrust healthcare providers to prevent disease (whenever possible), to cure illness (if present), and to promote and maintain healthy lifestyles.[1] Oral healthcare providers are highly qualified professionals whose responsibility is to provide these services in the context of specific anatomic areas—the oral cavity and the perioral structures. Appropriate communication between dental professionals and patients is necessary to ensure appropriate provision of these services.[2,3,4,5,6] In a recent study, Dua, Vassiliou, and Fan aimed to identify the terms commonly used in a specialized area of dentistry that patients may misunderstand.

One hundred patients over the age of 16 years were recruited from the outpatient maxillofacial departments at a London teaching hospital over a 3-month period. Patients completed a two-part questionnaire without the aid of other people or the use of smartphones. Patients with poor literacy skills or physical disabilities were able to have assistance to read the questions and have their answers transcribed. In addition to the information obtained from the questionnaire, patient age, first language, and perceived fluency in English were recorded.

The first section of the questionnaire asked patients to define the following terms: numbness, paresthesia, impacted tooth, buried tooth, temporomandibular joint (TMJ), undisplaced fracture, and displaced fracture. Patients were able to select from three possible definitions or "I don't know." The second section of the questionnaire asked for written definitions of five terms: broken bone, fracture, mandible, bite (occlusion), and plates and screws. Responses were categorized as correct, almost correct, incorrect, or "gave no answer."


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