Communication killers to avoid — Showing x-rays to patients

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Dr Mark HassedOver the past several years I’ve been fortunate to go into practices and observe dentists working with patients. In that time I’ve seen a number of common errors with communication that kill case acceptance. Over the next few months I’ll be presenting those errors and giving you the solutions.

I hope that you enjoy this series.


2. Showing x-rays to patients

Believe it or not, there are many dentists who can’t read x-rays adequately despite months of training and years of practice. A majority of new graduates (and some more senior dentists) who I’ve mentored struggle with diagnosing interproximal decay and initial periapical lesions.

If some dentists have difficulty reading x-rays then patients have no hope. They don’t have the years of training it takes to recognise what is normal and what is not. Patients have to take your word for whatever you point out to them.

Picture this analogy. If an orthopaedic surgeon showed you an x-ray of your own knee you would have to trust what he says because you don’t know how a knee should look and what is a significant variation from normal. The same applies to dental patients and their dental x-rays.

Showing x-rays to patients is just an attempt at justification. You think that you are proving your case to patients but all you are doing is confusing the patient and making them unsure.

If you want to use x-rays to prove your diagnosis to a patient then there is a far simpler way. Look intently at the x-ray for a few moments and then look the patient in the eye and simply say to them: “The x-ray shows a serious infection on the root of the tooth.” or “Your x-rays show six holes between your teeth.”

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