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Talk with patients more effectively using ADA health literacy webpage

August 25, 2016

By Michelle Manchir

Image of the ADA's webpage dedicated to health literacy in dentistry
Do your patients know what you mean when you talk about dental prophylaxis? Can they define tooth enamel — or do they know why it’s valuable to use toothpaste that contains fluoride?

To help ensure that members know how to effectively communicate with patients, the ADA has created a webpage dedicated to health literacy in dentistry.

The ADA House of Delegates adopted in 2006 policy defining health literacy as the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services need to make appropriate oral health decisions (Resolution 13H: 2006).

Dental professionals can help improve patients’ health literacy by using simple language and confirming comprehension with them, said Dr. Philip Barbell, chair of the ADA National Advisory Committee on Health Literacy in Dentistry and a dental risk management consultant.

Photo of Dr. Barbell
Dr. Barbell
“Health literacy can impact a dentists practice, the effectiveness of their treatments and their relationships with their patients,” said Dr. Barbell. “We all strive for the best outcome for every patient. It all relies upon health literacy — that the patient and dentist understand what the other is talking about.”

The ADA webpage offers links to online courses related to provider-patient communications; best practices for using, learning and teaching nonscientific language; and other related articles and links, including some targeted for the patient. For example, ADA’s consumer website,, offers a glossary translating into plain language oral health terms including malocculusion and xerostomia and also related medical terms including bacterial endocarditis. For more information about health literacy, contact Sharee Clough, manager of preventive health activities for the ADA Council on Access, Prevention and Interprofessional Relations, by email at