The Importance of Patient Education in Dental Assisting

  • Dental Assistant
  • March 12, 2024
  • 4 min read
The Importance of Patient Education in Dental Assisting

Empowering Smiles Through Knowledge

If you are a current or aspiring dental assistant, you may be wondering what all the hype is about related to patient education in the dental office. This article addresses the questions “Why is patient education so important in dentistry?” and “How can I contribute to patient education as a dental assistant?”

Understanding the Fundamentals: What is Patient Education?

Patient education involves explaining dental procedures and oral health concepts to patients in simple terms that they can understand without formal dental training. 

Dental assistants may educate patients about simple but important concepts, such as the significance of oral hygiene (i.e., brushing and flossing), or more complicated concepts, such as why a specific dental material is recommended for use during a crown and bridge or implant procedure. Patients feel more confident about a planned treatment when they have received adequate education regarding the provider’s recommendation.

Knowledge is Power: The Benefits of Patient Education

Informed consent is a critical concept in the healthcare industry, and dentistry is no different. The principle of informed consent requires healthcare providers to ensure that their patients fully understand the rationale for a recommended treatment, as well as any reasonable treatment alternatives, before accepting and proceeding with a treatment plan. As a result, patient education plays a vital role in obtaining informed consent. 

Patient education makes patients more likely to follow your recommended treatment plan. It also reduces your liability and the likelihood of a patient suing for malpractice if the clinical outcome of a procedure is less than ideal.

Tools of the Trade: How Dental Assistants Educate Patients?

Patient education often starts before the exam has even occurred. Many dental offices have visual aids on the walls or computer screensavers so that patients have something interesting to look at while they are waiting, which is also educational! 

More active patient education typically begins once the doctor has provided the patient with the results of their comprehensive or periodic exam. After the doctor has explained the diagnoses and recommended treatment(s) to the patient, the fun begins for the dental assistant! 

Dental assistants should start by asking the patient to explain what they understood from what the doctor said and whether or not they have any questions regarding that information. 

Assistants must use their active listening skills both to build trust with the patient and also to ensure that they are adequately addressing all concerns. Once the dental assistant has determined the patient’s level of understanding, they can correct misconceptions and address questions. 

Dental assistants must communicate clearly during such conversations and may rely upon visual aids, models, radiographs, intraoral photographs, or drawings to illustrate their points. Studies have shown that visual aids significantly increase patient understanding of their dental condition and recommended treatment, so they should be used regularly as an educational tool.

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Success Stories: How Patient Education Leads to Better Oral Health

So why do we focus on patient education? Ultimately, it comes down to one thing: it results in better outcomes for our patients. 

Patients who receive comprehensive education from their dentist and dental assistants are more likely to practice good oral hygiene habits and are more likely to accept recommended treatment from their dentist. 

The overall result is that patients have better oral health outcomes. Patients also have improved general/systemic health outcomes when their oral health is improved. 

As an added benefit, patients tend to have higher satisfaction with their experience in the dental office when their diagnosis and recommended treatment plans are explained thoroughly by the dental team members.

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Conclusion: Patient Education is a Dental Assistant’s Mission

In conclusion, dental assistants play a vital role in educating patients, fostering trust, and improving compliance with dentist recommendations. Therefore, every dental assistant should make it their mission to provide their patients with the best, most thorough education possible.

Jessica Vazquez
Dental Assistant Program Chair

Originally from Southern California, Jessica moved to Las Vegas with her family before she found both a job as part of our Dental Assisting Team and her husband here. Jessica attended Sylmar HS in California and then Charter College for…Read Full Bio