We look at the important role you have to play in patient education – and hear from you about some of the bizarre questions you've been asked by patients

The role of the dental nurse in patient education is a significant one – and has perhaps been greatly undervalued in the past.

As a dental nurse, you provide vital lines of communication between dentist and reception desk and patient and back again, relaying the information, repeating detail and explaining to the patient vital knowledge and instruction that he or she was possibly too nervous to ask the dentist to repeat.

That's not to say that the dentist is the bogeyman – or woman – but more that, having gathered their thoughts, patients very often turn to the dental nurse for reassurance, information and the finer detail.

Your role is, therefore, pivotal to the whole patient experience and it is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly.

You'll need to reassure people and put them at ease, while supporting the team in all aspects of patient care. You're the calm in the storm – a welcoming face to whom they can turn to in the hustle and bustle of a busy dental environment. However, sometimes the patients can inadvertently offer some light relief. We invited you to share some of the most bizarre questions your patients have asked you. But, in the meantime, here's a look at some key aspects of patient education to consider in order to ensure that the patient does understand what he or she has been told by the dentist, hygienist or therapist about their dental treatment.

  • Get the whole picture – remember an up-to-date medical history is there for reference. Is this patient a suitable candidate for the treatment they desire?
  • Talk about it – be specific and share a factual description of the treatment, the pros, the cons and the risks and be transparent about costs. Let the patient know all available treatment options, including the possibility of a referral for specialist advice or treatment
  • The good, the bad and the important – remember the patient needs to have been told what effect a treatment will have (or might not achieve) so that they understand the impacts or outcomes, or the importance of what the dentist is asking of them with regards home care, for example
  • Examples are useful – technology is a wonderful thing and can be an essential tool in the patient consent process. The use of digitally enhanced imaging, diagnostic mock ups and before and after photos of patients who have previously undergone similar treatment are key.
  • Check for understanding – the biggest failing in communication lies not so much in what is said or recorded, but in what is understood. So, do check. Ask a question or two about the treatments the dentist is offering in order to ascertain if it has been understood. The dentist will have asked them to repeat their understanding of what it is they hope to achieve by the treatment. But it doesn't hurt to check again when you accompany them out of the surgery
  • Most importantly – write it down. A team should always record what was discussed with the patient and what treatment the accepted – or rejected!

    They said what?

Thanks to all those dental nurses who responded to our shout out on Facebook, We share the best responses here…

‘A patient, having been told they would not be able to get dental implants on NHS, said: “But I only want one, so can you not just give me one out of drawer before the dentist comes back into room?” Needless to say I didn't open the “implant” drawer!’

‘A lady told me she had been putting household bleach in her whitening trays and said that the dentist had informed her it was exactly the same. I said: “Okay, let's just check that with him when he comes back in because I'm sure it's very dangerous.” She then told me she only came to the practice because she saw him on the website and hoped they might get married. I said: “I'll leave that for you to discuss!”’

‘I was giving oral health education to school children and I asked if there were any questions. A little one put her hand up and said: “Does your grandma like Frozen?” I learned to be specific and invite dental questions only.’

‘When told they have to have a tooth extracted, some patients have asked: “Will it grow back?” or “Can you screw in a new one?”’