Skip to main content
Toggle Menu of ADA WebSites
ADA Websites
Toggle Search Area
Toggle Menu
e-mail Print Share

Do your patients understand you? October spotlights oral health literacy

ADA 2017 course will discuss effective communication between dentists, their patients

September 18, 2017

By Michelle Manchir

October is Health Literacy Month and an apt time for dental professionals to consider the clarity and effectiveness of their communication with patients.

"There is room in our daily lives as clinicians to change the way we educate our patient populations and challenge ourselves to seek more effective tools to improve oral health by empowering the people we serve," said Dr. Jonathan Shenkin, a pediatric dentist and former ADA vice president.

The ADA House of Delegates adopted in 2006 a 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).

Dr. Shenkin
Dr. Horowitz
"When we talk about health literacy, it's not just about patient comprehension, but also about us as providers," said Alice Horowitz, Ph.D., emphasizing the need for dental team members, not just dentists, to have health literacy awareness.

"We need to know the scientific information and how to present it and we have to have health literate health facilities so we do everything possible to make patients want to come back and do what we want them to do."

Dr. Horowitz, a research associate professor of behavioral and community health at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, and Dr. Shenkin are among the leaders of a course on health literacy Oct. 20 at ADA 2017 – America's Dental Meeting in Atlanta.

At Strategies to Communicate Effectively With Your Patients (6800), participants will practice the teach-back technique, a way to ensure patients understand the information given to them; learn to appreciate how good communication skills improve health literacy in dentistry; and discover other ways to improve conveying information so patients walk away informed.

"Lecturing patients is often the route that has been taken by health care providers to educate patients," said Dr. Shenkin. "But new evidence-based methods may be more promising for patient outcomes."

The course will cover some of these methods and, said Dr. Horowitz, be hands-on, interactive and "get across the need for use of plain language — no jargon."

For those who cannot attend the ADA 2017 course, which is offered at no extra cost to meeting registration, the ADA maintains a webpage dedicated to health literacy in dentistry.

It offers links to online resources 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.

Visit for more information. Dr. Horowitz also recommends health literacy training online through the CDC, which is available at

To register for ADA 2017 and Strategies to Communicate Effectively With Your Patients (6800), visit

Registration fees for ADA 2017 increase on Sept. 22.