Australasian Dental Practice

Saturday, 25 May, 2024

30 Nov 2019 | Australasian Dental Practice

news > Spectrum > Page 78

Using metaphors and visual aids

By Dr Michael Sernik

When I first graduated, I used to spend a lot of time trying to explain dental concepts to patients which caused me to be always running late.

Like most dentists, I was making 3 communications errors:

1. My explanations were much too technical

In trying to explain how treatment was done using dental jargon, I was replicating what I'd been taught at dental school.

2. I was often focussing on the wrong subject

Getting into long explanations of how we do each treatment is tangential to their needs.

Our patients are faced with treatment choices. Should I replace my missing back tooth? What are my options? What are the pros and cons of each choice?

Patient's don't need to know all the details of how treatment is done. They need to know why it's done and most importantly, what happens to them if they don't do the treatment.

3. We like to lecture

Patients don't enjoy being lectured to. Being lectured feels demeaning. But many dentists like to be in "lecturing mode". It makes us feel important!

Use metaphors

As I struggled to explain things faster, I found myself using metaphors. The nice thing about metaphors is that the conversation becomes less formal and friendlier. Patients understand things better if we can be friendlier and more casual.

I'm sure we all use them naturally, but I consciously started to collect them, try them out and write them down.

Visual aids and communications tools

When we use metaphors, we'll often use visual aids, like our hands or we'd draw something. But all of this still takes time and with so many new things to talk about, clinicians are always looking for communications shortcuts.

The advantage of having videos in the patient lounge is the timing.

When patients walk into your treatment room, it's very helpful if they've just been exposed to a quick visual metaphor, because it's so fresh in their minds. Now as you start to discuss a missing back tooth, they're hearing the same information twice. They know that the jaw is like a nutcracker and all the heavy load is taken near the hinge by the back teeth and without back teeth, the front teeth wear faster.

Or they'll understand why they need a crown because it's like a tooth helmet. Even concepts like the role of the tongue's position in shaping the palate is easily understood after they view the tongue as "nature's natural retainer" in a simple to understand video.

If you're time poor, you might compromise on your obligation to communicate effectively. But if your patients are lacking the right information, everyone can suffer. Patients make poorer treatment choices and lots of misunderstanding can spoil your day.

Dr Sernik is CEO of Subscribe to and they'll create custom videos for you, free of charge. Try it for 60 days and if you're not thrilled, you don't pay a thing. In addition, if you type in code MA56, you'll receive a FREE plug-n-play media player to get you up and running. See

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