Dentists Advised to Avoid Jargon in Dealing With Patients

Dentistry Today


The Dental Defence Union (DDU) advises professionals to use plain English and avoid the use of jargon when communicating with patients and colleagues, improving communication and potentially preventing misunderstandings that could lead to a complaint or claim.

“Jargon, acronyms, and technical language are commonly used in dentistry. Because we are using the words day in and day out, in can be difficult to distinguish what is and isn’t jargon,” said Leo Briggs, deputy head of the DDU.

“For example, dental professionals all understand what composite, amalgam, and radiographs are, but they are not widely understood by patients. By making the effort to communicate clearly and concisely, dental professionals can give patients a greater sense of involvement in their own care,” Briggs said.

“When you consider that communication issues are also a regular factor in complaints faced by DDU members, using plain English can also minimize the risk of a simple misunderstanding becoming more serious,” Briggs said.

“However, it’s not only patients who will benefit from dental professionals adopting a plain English style. Avoiding acronyms and technical language in referral letters and other correspondence with colleagues can also help to avoid misunderstandings and save time in interpretation,” said Briggs. 

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges published advice on writing outpatient clinic letters to patients in plain English earlier this year. While aimed at medical professionals, the DDU says the advantages apply as much to dentistry as they do to medicine. 

The Academy says that while some medical jargon is okay, plain English should be used wherever possible. It recommends explaining acronyms because they “are often incomprehensible to non-specialists as well as to patients.”

The DDU notes that common words used by dental professionals that may not be understood by patients include amalgam, composite, restoration, radiograph, periodontitis, basic periodontal examination, caries, and temporomandibular disorder.

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