Tips for treating patients who speak another language


In today’s world, dentists treat patients of different cultural, linguistic and socio-economic backgrounds. Modern treatments emphasize a shared decision-making process that requires communication between dentist and patient. The dentist’s ability to communicate in his patient’s language is important in establishing a strong dentist-patient relationship.

Having a patient who speaks a different language can be intimidating for a dentist, but it doesn’t have to be. Spending time learning about your patient’s cultural differences, preparing translated documents, and finding an interpreter or interpretation solution will go a long way in communicating with your patient. The following tips will help you and the patient feel better prepared when there is a language barrier.

Use an interpreter

When working with an interpreter, speak directly to the patient and family, not the interpreter. For example, do not look at the interpreter and ask if he can ask the patient a question. Instead, look at the patient and ask your question. It keeps the discussion patient-centered, helps you build relationships, and helps you connect with the patient. You want to keep the patient engaged and make them feel like they are your top priority. By focusing on the interpreter, the patient may feel disengaged from the conversation. By law, an interpreter must be available in person, by video chat or by phone. You don’t need to hire a professional interpreter; however, it is recommended that you have staff who speak the predominant language in your area. When speaking with the interpreter, speak slowly and clearly to make sure your information is understood.

Learn the basics of the language

Learning a few short sentences can be beneficial when working with a patient who speaks a different language. Learn phrases like hello, how are you, nice to meet you, thank you and goodbye. Even a few short sentences can help put your patient at ease and show that you have taken the time to learn some of their language. It shows that you care about yourself and can help build a relationship with your patient. You can use online programs and applications to learn basic greetings. You will also want to learn some linguistic terminologies in your field. This will help you convey medical information more easily and be of greater benefit to the patient.

Use written documents

Written documents are essential to ensure that the information your patient needs to know is understood. You should have translated documents for your patients ready after their procedures. These documents are needed for home monitoring and prescribing guidelines. There are a variety of medical translation services that can be used to have translated documents available. You can also have a native speaker of that language in your office translate your follow-up documents for you and have them typed for your patients.

Check understanding

A dentist should always make sure that the patient understands the information he is giving him. You should never assume that the patient or family member has understood you. To make sure you and your patient are on the same page, use the Learn Method. Ask the patient and family member to explain the information you just gave you. Using this method will let you know that they understand home care procedures or information.

Use gestures

Communication is not just verbal. Using gestures can help demonstrate the information you are conveying. Nods, facial expressions, hand gestures, touch, and demonstration gestures are all universal means of communication. You should be aware of culturally inappropriate body language or hand gestures before they arrive, so as not to accidentally offend the patient. You can learn it by doing a simple online research or by talking with someone from that part of the world.

Communication is essential when working with patients. The dentist should inform his patients of all procedures, medications and follow-up procedures to ensure that they receive all the care they need. By using these tips, you can be sure that you are communicating effectively with patients who speak different languages.


Dr. Edward Harsini is the owner of Smile Dental Clinics in Phoenix, Arizona. He graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry in 1998. He is certified by UCLA Aesthetic Continuum, The 3M Imtec Mini Dental Implants, and GRU / AAID Maxi-Course Implant Dentistry.


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