What advice would you give a dentist looking for the best patient education materials?

We asked 46 top dentists and dental hygienists this question. Why? Because in this day and age, there are myriad websites, software, apps and more that all claim to be a one-stop shop for your practice’s patient education needs. That makes it tough to determine what makes one better than another.

To answer that question, we first must define "patient education materials." Patient education materials are videos, photos, brochures, charts, infographics, models and more - both in hardcopy and electronic formats - that are used to describe or illustrate a condition or procedure to a patient to help him or her make informed decisions about his or her care.

best patient education tools

With that definition in mind, you can see why it’s difficult to further break it down into what makes one provider “the best.”

So, we decided to not try to do that. Instead, we’re sharing with you the experiences of nearly 50 professional dental care providers. They shared what they’ve found to be the most important attributes - from the terminology used to the length of patient education videos. All their input boiled down to 23 total tips (plus five bonus insights) that should be on every dentist's checklist when shopping around for patient education materials.

After all, as Dr. William F. Runyon, Jr., pointed out, “Patient education should be a very important process in a dental practice today. A better-informed patient can make a more intelligent and well-informed decision on their oral health needs.”

Tips for dental patient education resources

Before you dig in to the full list of tips, here’s a quick glance at our findings:

  • 15 of the 46 dentists emphasized that the materials must be easy to understand.
  • 12 said the provider you choose should have materials for each learning style.
  • Nine recommended choosing materials with high-quality visuals.
  • Four advised that the patient education materials must match up with your practice philosophy.
  • Two said shorter patient education videos were better than longer ones.
  • Zero recommended that dentists should deliver patient education messages in the form of a song.

Good luck in your hunt for the best patient education materials! If you think we’re missing anything, let us know in the comments.

1. Find patient education resources that are accessible anywhere.

What do I look for in the best patient education resources? I want them to be online and cross platform. I don't want to have to access them from any particular place (e.g. DVD only, etc.). I'd like to be able to send the same message whether the patient is getting an email from me or looking at my website or sitting in my chair holding the iPad. – Alan Mead, D.D.S., co-host of The Dental Hacks and host of The Alan Mead Experience

Patients want to be told but also have something to follow up on, maybe written or online. So they want a place to get follow-up answers or FAQ, especially for family members. – Donna Stenberg, D.D.S.

Dentists looking for patient education resources should seek flexibility. An ideal product would be used on their website to promote care, as a lobby video to highlight procedures, in the operatory to inform a patient of problems and solutions, as part of a legal consent for treatment, and emailed to follow up on questions or concerns.

Jeff Rouse, D.D.S.

Make sure the education options are easy for both the patient and staff members to access in the office. – Jim McKee, D.D.S.

For video/animation, the delivery is critical. If you do not have it cued up and ready, that is more chair time. That is why sending to the patient's inbox is the most impressive way; no pressure and they may watch on their own time … and they do. My patients love it and it always sparks dialogue, no matter what type of person they are. – David St. Ledger, D.D.S.

Patient education resources are invaluable, as they can make or break a patient's decision of whether or not to accept necessary treatment. Therefore, it must be mobile so that if a patient has a question later they can refer to it. – Jessica Atkinson, Shelley Brown, Candi Kidd and Melia Lewis, R.D.H. and founders of Hygiene Edge

The electronic resources available must be easily accessible and editable, and a resource in the form of a three-dimensional model should provide easy-to-understand visual assistance in making the point in a clear and concise manner. – Doug Benting, D.D.S., M.S., F.A.C.P.

2. Make sure the materials are easy to understand.

Dentists should look for patient education resources that contain clear, concise explanations and approachable visuals (i.e. not scary surgery or bone destruction videos), that help patients understand beyond a conversation. – Dr. David Wagner, D.D.S., www.drdavidwagner.com

Our patient communication/education resources must be simple to use, concise and written or verbalized in “non-dental” and “non-technical” language. It must be appropriate for various patient learning styles. It must be “user-friendly.” – Jeff Bonk, D.D.S

I want the language to be "patient speak" instead of "dentist speak" and I want them to be short and to the point. – Alan Mead, D.D.S., co-host of The Dental Hacks and host of The Alan Mead Experience

Keep it simple. Much of what we talk about can be confusing to highly educated and experienced dental professionals, so just imagine how it is for our patients. For starters, in nearly all cases this means the less technical terms we and our patient education materials use, the better. Use terms and examples they can connect with. – John Carson, D.D.S., P.C.

If it is written patient education, such as a pamphlet, it cannot be technical. It should be written in layman's terms, be short and concise, and leave them asking for more insight from their dentist. – David St. Ledger, D.D.S.

We here at HygieneEdge.com recommend that patient education resources be easy to understand and written in patient terminology, and they must be concise. – Jessica Atkinson, Shelley Brown, Celia Kidd and Melia Lewis, R.D.H. and founders of Hygiene Edge

Simplicity - use of simple terms (easy to understand). Also, have simple graphics. The video should be easy to follow even without sound. – Ali Alijanian, D.D.S.

You can have all the info, but if you can’t implement it and communicate with patients, dentists will fail. – Andy Cohen, D.M.D.

Clinicians tend to be too scientific/technical with their patient communication, and the terminology used may not be in the patient's wheelhouse. Patient education resources should be simple, concise information, laid out in the most lay terms. It should mainly point out the nature of a given condition as well as the consequences of inaction. – Ricardo Mitrani, D.D.S., M.S.D.

dental buyers journey

(Patient education resources should be) well-received and understood by patients. The production or publication should be of the highest quality. The animation or clinical cases presented are clear, concise and easy to understand, but especially relevant to the patient's needs. – William F. Runyon, Jr., D.D.S.

The resource must be easily understood by the patient and elicit an emotional response that moves the patient to action. – Mark Fleming, D.D.S.

Written materials should be written in a plain and simple fashion with appropriate illustrations and have the correct look and feel that will represent your office, also known as branding. A wrinkled-up yellow piece of paper with a few “chicken scratch” pieces of writing on it will convey a different message than a shiny, thick, glossy brochure or flyer. – Bryan McLelland, D.D.S., B.S.C., host of Dentist Brain Candy

Choose education programs that written in terms the patient can understand. – Jim McKee, D.D.S.

Look for patient education resources that communicate in lay-appropriate language, are relatable without looking to elicit fear, and give the patient the understanding that there are options. – Martin Mendelson, D.D.S., C.P.C., E.L.I.-M.P.

Dentists should look for a resource that educates patients using language they will understand naturally and easily. – Victor Khatchaturian, D.D.S.

3. The patient education materials should be easy for the dental practice team to use.

(Patient education resources should be) easy to implement and use in the practice setting: if it is a software-based product, the upload and implementation should be straightforward for staff and require no extra hardware, or at the most, an iPad.  It should be easy to navigate the library to efficiently find what tools are needed for the case at hand. If the material is printed, it needs to be high quality and easy to read and manage chairside or in a consult room. – William F. Runyon, Jr., D.D.S.

Resources should be modern in esthetic. They should be easy for a dentist and team to utilize during the busy flow of private practice. They should be flexible in that they can be used by the dentist during a consultation with a patient, as well as by a treatment coordinator during a presentation to that same patient. – Dr. David Wagner, D.D.S., www.drdavidwagner.com

4. The materials should include high-quality visuals.

In 2018, I find my patients are engaged by technology. From high-quality visuals, whether they be in the form of intraoral photos or intraoral scans of the patient's mouth, all the way to educational videos, patients want to be wowed by the educational process. It's no longer enough to tell the patient they have a cracked tooth and need a crown. Show them the tooth, let them watch a video on the process of cracked teeth. The dental message itself should be simple and easily digestible, but the delivery should be engaging. – Courtney Lavigne, D.M.D.

When it comes to education in general, we know that people gain and retain more information the more senses we engage (i.e. vision and hearing are better than vision alone). I think it is important to have before and after photos to help patients “visualize” the end result they are looking for. – Jeff Lineberry, D.D.S., F.A.G.D., F.I.C.O.I., A.A.A.C.D.

If it is going to be visual, these days, you can skip images and rely on video/animation. What BiteFX started, and now Spear Education expanded on, is far and away the most effective way to educate a patient at any attention level or any personality type: the Driver, the Expressive, the Amiable, etc. – David St. Ledger, D.D.S.

Photos, pictures or images are best to clarify. Too much to read is not a helpful or clarifying. – Donna Stenberg, D.D.S.

The graphics must be amazing. They must be lifelike and yet pleasing to the patient. Too many times, people will get distracted by the graphics and miss the message. – Jeff Rouse, D.D.S.

My ideal patient resource includes a relatively simple, understandable explanation of the subject matter. Articulate and precise and not inundated with excessive detail. In addition, a video/visual representation of the subject matter to accompany the explanation. Ideally, this would generally be an animation, as this is usually more aesthetically pleasing and easier to understand than live video. – Stephanie Zeller, D.D.S., M.S.

Patient education resources should be concise, to the point and actually demonstrate that the clinician is highly professional and capable. The quality of the resources is important to convey the skill and expertise of the practitioner. – Sameer Puri, D.D.S.

While I have consistently relied on 35 mm photography, the new technology of computer animation is a tremendous leap in presentation capability as well. Complex dental conditions can be quickly portrayed using the animation video format. It is a technique that we can expect to only expand our ability to better communicate with the patient in all clinical settings. It is a great time to be alive. – William Ralstin, D.D.S.

I don't want gory videos, yet I'd like the visuals to look realistic enough that the patients understand what we're talking about and the treatment that we're proposing makes sense. – Alan Mead, D.D.S., co-host of The Dental Hacks and host of The Alan Mead Experience

5. Make sure there are resources available to match every learning style.

Patient educational software is an important tool in bridging the gap between doctor and patient trust. Our patients almost always present with fear - fear of cost, judgment, untrustworthiness, overdiagnosis or pain. Because everyone has different learning strategies, patient education cannot be one size fits all.  Some patients need a picture, some need a video, some want to see a real-life case. In any situation, I think variety is best so that we can show our patients something that's going to make sense for them and ease their fears. – Dawn Wehking, D.D.S., M.A.G.D., www.dentistlafayette.com

Good patient education resources will appeal to different sets of the practice patient population based on preference: something in print, something on a screen, something that can be taken home in hand or something that can be emailed. – Dr. David Wagner, D.D.S., www.drdavidwagner.com

Patient education needs to be continuous and tailored to the individual, and this is often not considered. If it is in the dental chair, keeping in mind whether the patient is an auditory learner, visual learner, or someone who is often scared by too much information. Sadly, there isn't one educational platform that will cater to each patient, but looking for one that can hit most of your patients’ needs is ideal. – Michelle Strange, R.D.H., co-host of A Tale of Two Hygienists

I've learned over time that talking to patients is often not enough to effectively communicate.  I think it is important to have something they can see (photographs or video), something they can touch (models), and then something they can take home with them like brochures or photographs of their own teeth. – Jon Rogers, D.M.D., co-host of The Dental Guys Podcast

Before deciding on which patient education resource to use, I like to try to read my patient to determine which resource might be best to help them understand. While educating patients, I constantly ask myself, “Am I giving this person too much information or not enough information?” If I have a senior patient in front of me, I might gravitate toward using a pencil and paper to illustrate their dental needs. However, if I am working with a millennial, I almost always use a digital resource, like the Spear Education procedure videos. Regardless of a person’s age, if we are talking about a comprehensive treatment plan presentation, I will use the PowerPoint templates provided by Spear Education because I have found them to be the simplest for my patients to understand and for me to use. – Drew Byrnes, D.M.D., host of Fee for Service Dentist Podcast

Patient education resources are best when they can be adapted to many uses. Silent images or videos that have a self-explanatory message are great for waiting room and operatory loops, or to include on a website, blog or e-blast.  These are especially helpful when the dentist or team member can narrate, either live or recorded, the silent media with details pertaining to the patient in the chair.  – Steve Carstensen, D.D.S., editor of Dental Sleep Practice Magazine


Learn More About Patient Education

dental patient education

Learn More About Patient Education

Spanning a wide range of clinical conditions, as well as restorative and specialist procedures, Spear Patient Education is your solution for greater patient engagement. Click below to learn more and then get a demo of Spear Online.


There are various learning styles for patients. Some patients are visual. Some verbal. And some are more auditory in their understanding and integration of material. There must be educational resources that are short and sweet, such as education for tooth brushing technique or plaque control. This learning may be classified as “surface learning.” Other resource material must be much longer or more involved, such as explaining procedures and processes related to a patient about to undergo complex interdisciplinary care. This resource material needs to be more in depth and cover multiple stages. It may be designed as a “connected” or “add-on” module style. The educational resources must be appropriate for all styles of patient learning. – Jeff Bonk, D.D.S.

We find ourselves using photographs, handouts and videos to help with communication. People absorb information different ways. For some, just letting them know what you see is enough. For others, a photo or a pamphlet can be motivating. What can be extremely powerful is to use a patient education video. – Carl Steinberg, D.D.S., M.A.G.D.

In my education and mentoring experience, people learn in various ways.  What works for one may not work for others. – Andy Cohen, D.M.D.

Well-illustrated flyers and brochures as well as videos and handheld models can all help communicate specific treatment modalities to patients. Having them to work in tandem is particularly helpful. – Bryan McLelland, D.D.S., B.S.C., host of Dentist Brain Candy

When it comes to patient education sources, I don’t believe there is “one size fits all.”  I think that dentists and team members have to look at sharing patient education sources in a variety of ways.  Good old-fashion paper printouts can be great for some, but some of the newer generations as well as up-to-date baby boomers prefer digital media means like videos. – Jeff Lineberry, D.D.S., F.A.G.D., F.I.C.O.I., A.A.A.C.D.

Patients learn in a variety of methods.  People are typically auditory learners (learn by listening), visual learners (learn by seeing and/or reading), or process learners (learn by association and application).  If a patient is primarily of one type, then the other modes enhance and augment learning.  Therefore, in my experience, effective patient education requires the clinician to incorporate each mode into the process, which truly is a key to the informed consent process.  – Kevin Huff, D.D.S.

6. The resources should also match a variety of personality profiles.

Patient personality profiles should also be considered as part of the patient education resourcing. The four personality styles are Driver, Amiable, Expressive and Analytical. The educational material needs to be appropriate for the personality type of individual to whom the presentation is aimed. For instance, a Driver, one who likes short and direct information, may only require a simple, one-image graphic and/or a listing of procedures and costs. On the other hand, an analytical patient may need very detailed and precise documentation that outlines material, dimension, depth and detail process. These patients may require multiple detailed images and elaborate detailed outlines of the treatment sequence. Each personality style contains specific needs for educational understanding. The dentist needs to be aware of the patient's learning style and design the educational information to meet those needs. – Jeff Bonk, D.D.S.

7. The patient education materials should cover the basics ...

It would be nice to have patient education software showing the most common clinical procedures. (i.e., filling, crown, implant, RCT, etc.). (Also) having something on the desktop that is easy to access, auto-updates, and can be mirrored on the TV in the room. – Dave Monokian, D.D.S.

We often forget to explain the simple bread and butter procedures, but they can be the most important in establishing trust. – Jason Lipscomb, D.D.S., co-host of the Dental Hacks

8. And they should show conditions ...

I need resources that provide information about conditions, not only information about what a patient should do. Education that simply informs is interesting and useful. Education that answers questions I have about me is powerful and behavior-changing. I need patient education resources that can do both. – Gary DeWood, D.D.S., M.S.

9. As well as the risks and benefits of treatment ...

I like to have a listing of risks/consequences and benefits for common procedures or issues - let’s say for periodontal grafting. The doctor or team member could select from that list the most pertinent items to the patient and use it as a guide for the education discussion. – Donna Stenberg, D.D.S.

While any of the methods we use need to be clearly relevant to the patient's concerns, the challenge we now face could be which method or modality do we employ? What a great problem to consider!  Whether it is 35 mm photography, print media or motion animation, the information needs to clearly depict the benefits associated with the procedure. This will ensure the patient moves forward with a better overall understanding of their condition and situation and ultimately proceed with the needed treatment. – William Ralstin, D.D.S.

10. And the consequences of not receiving treatment.

A dentist’s ability to communicate the benefits of a procedure or treatment is vital, but maybe even more important is the communication of failure to act and the consequences of not addressing the issue.  Videos, articles, seminars, or workshops are all valuable and effective resources to learn the skills necessary to educate patients, but they must emphasize the WHY. It is critical for a patient to understand the advantages and disadvantages of a particular issue or concern.  Then educating the patient on HOW you can create optimal dental health and WHAT procedure will realize the outcome and create the best long-term prognosis.  A fully informed and educated patient will ensure the best possible outcome. – Andy Cohen, D.M.D.

(Patient education resources should) review what would be beneficial moving forward with treatment or what can happen if something is not done. So, for example, not addressing an abscessed tooth that doesn’t currently hurt the patient. They need to learn why and how teeth abscess (trauma, decay, fractured teeth), what the outcome is with no treatment (infection, pain, loss of tooth and bone) and what it is with treatment (saving the tooth, no infection traveling throughout the body causing damage, etc.). – Ann Sielicki, D.D.S.

In-office discussions occur intentionally or serendipitously with anyone on the dental team, where in this instance, it is helpful to have visual resources providing information related to consequences of “no treatment” as well as “what is possible” in the short-term as well as the long-term. – Doug Benting, D.D.S., M.S., F.A.C.P.

11. The materials should feature treatment options.

With Spear Patient Education videos, it’s nice how the videos can be filtered by condition and then treatment, which is contiguous with the Spear model of co-diagnosis: presenting findings and then options to the patient. – Dr. David Wagner, D.D.S., www.drdavidwagner.com

12. Ensure the resources encourage actual communication between the dentist and the patient.

I think it's important to incorporate some of your own cases and clinical photos into the process to help tailor the presentation to your needs. But make no mistake ... patient education resources are meant to complement your personal touch, not replace it. The consult is an opportunity to learn about your patient, bond and inspire confidence. That part is still up to you and your team! – Chris Salierno, D.D.S., chief editor of Dental Economics

It must be something that peaks a patient's interest, resulting in further dialogue and clarity by their dentist. – David St. Ledger, D.D.S.

I think the more important part of education, especially considering home care, is letting them be a part of the decision making. We can inform them all day long, but that usually is not what motivates them. Helping them decide when they can incorporate the new techniques/brushes/interdental tools, etc., into their daily regime goes far beyond any educational or informational resources we can provide. – Michelle Strange, R.D.H., co-host of A Tale of Two Hygienists

Resources that help emphasize stronger communication skills so a provider can connect with their patients on an emotional level will lead to successful implementation. – Andy Cohen, D.M.D.

What I have found to be the best patient education resource is making sure I am devoting enough of my own time explaining what procedures need to be performed. Whether it is something as simple as a two-surface restoration, or a more extensive procedure, I have realized that things are more predictable for the patient if the correct amount of time is spent explaining what is going to be done. There is also a tremendous amount of comfort that the patient will feel once they fully understand what will be done and what is expected. In our office, we use models, intra oral cameras, diagrams, etc., but none of these will have the greatest impact unless the right amount of time is spent with the patient. John Wesley Halliburton, D.M.D., co-host of Life and Dentistry Podcast

For patient education resources, doctors should be looking for communication aids that facilitate transfer of information to patients and also strengthen their relationship with the practice.

Costin Marinescu, D.D.S.

When it comes time to help a patient understand what their concerns are or what my concerns may be, I always try to get them engaged emotionally. My first resource is always sitting face-to-face and discussing the concerns. – Carl Steinberg, D.D.S., M.A.G.D.

I also believe that the education should focus on the simplest and least graphic description of conditions and procedures. This way, the video can keep a patient's attention and then the provider can elaborate on what they’ve viewed. – Mike Monokian, D.M.D.

The (patient education) system should enable and encourage discussion with the clinician so that the patient has an opportunity to ask questions and have them answered appropriately for their level of understanding.  – Kevin Huff, D.D.S.

We have to remember that patients have to be engaged in what we are trying to educate them on. We have to realize that people and patients make decisions based on emotion and support it through logical means, and it is up to us as professionals to determine where they are presently and help them along this process. Otherwise, if we are giving patients information that is simply logical in nature and they have not emotionally committed to what they really need to do, we are offering solutions to a problem they do not emotionally “own” yet. – Jeff Lineberry, D.D.S., F.A.G.D., F.I.C.O.I., A.A.A.C.D.

Doctor and Patient communication is the best form of education! The better the doctor can communicate, the more the patient will learn. The Dale Carnegie Institute is one of the best resources for developing communication. – Matthew Whitson, D.M.D., co-host of Life and Dentistry Podcast

“Education” all comes down to the patient feeling that the dental team is listening and using their expertise to address the thing that’s making their life worse - precisely and specifically. – Steve Carstensen, D.D.S., editor of Dental Sleep Practice Magazine

13. The resources should also help patients come to their own conclusions.

I think any patient education system is successful when it allows the patient to come to their own conclusion.  – Jason Lipscomb, D.D.S., co-host of the Dental Hacks

In order for a patient to accept the care that you recommended and took so much time to diligently prepare for them, they need to first of all emotionally be driven toward doing the proposed treatment, and then they need to understand the details of what that procedure entails. Be very careful of falling into the trap of over-educating your patient on the technical aspects of what you're doing before they're motivated emotionally to proceed with the treatment. Once they see the connection between their emotional needs and how you can help them solve those issues, you're now able to provide information in any written and visual form. – Bryan McLelland, D.D.S., B.S.C., host of Dentist Brain Candy

14. Find a patient education provider that includes post-treatment materials ...

In addition, after the procedure, communicating key pieces of information in an effective way will help increase compliance, decrease complications, increase results and, if educated well, will decrease the number of return phone calls and return visits that are unnecessary. I am particularly fond of post-operative instructions. As an oral surgeon, it's very important that the patient knows how to take care of themselves afterward in order to achieve optimum results. – Bryan McLelland, D.D.S., B.S.C., host of Dentist Brain Candy

15. As well as informed consent education.

Another important piece of patient communication is informed consent. For procedures in which informed consent is required, I found a video that discusses the informed consent to be invaluable. I've been a dentist since 1995, and I've had one experience in a courtroom where things turned out in my favor, and the informed consent video was a very comforting piece of evidence to have on my side. – Bryan McLelland, D.D.S., B.S.C., host of Dentist Brain Candy

I like to have a way to record discussions when education is presented. This is more for informed consent documentation. – Donna Stenberg, D.D.S.

16. Shorter patient education videos are usually better.

It needs to be short to not lose their attention (and) very simple so that they can understand. – Ann Sielicki, D.D.S.

Short and sweet segments of learning, similar to what we have online. We use 10-minute segments because it will more easily fit our time. Same for patients; maybe three to five-minute segments or bites. – Donna Stenberg, D.D.S.

17. Customizable content lets dentists personalize the materials to individual patients.

The content should be changeable or modifiable by the dentist, either to personalize or add some patient specifics. For example, the ability to draw on a picture on the screen or tablet and then bring it out for the patient to take home. – Donna Stenberg, D.D.S.

The patient education resources that are made available for the patient to take home serve to provide a reference for our patients. This information can be helpful either on paper or electric form; however, a true advantage comes with built-in flexibility for customization for our patient. Take-home information can be helpful for a patient to understand why he or she is being referred to a specialist or potential financing options that may be available to help meet his or her dental treatment goals. – Doug Benting, D.D.S., M.S., F.A.C.P.

18. Don’t forget the models.

In my office, the majority of what I do revolves around dental implants. We utilize a variety of patient education resources. However, none are more important than my models. I have models that present to the patient a jaw undergoing atrophy over time. This makes explaining bone loss to a patient much easier. The model I use the most is a clear jaw that has two or four implants with a denture that can snap into them. You can explain all you want to a patient about the difficulty of wearing a lower or an upper denture. But when they can physically do it themselves, they are much more inclined to accept what you are telling them. The same goes for single implant crowns and bridges. Allowing them to hold and see what you are proposing they spend thousands of dollars on is what seals the deal most of the time. – Luis Mariusso, D.M.D. co-host of Life and Dentistry Podcast

19. Patient education resources should include homecare instructions

Considering patients retain about 30 to 50 percent of what we tell them in the dental chair, I think we should set the stage for the information but also give them tools to take on the task we are asking them to perform. If it is a different brushing technique, maybe we explain that in the chair, show them in a video, but have them also watch a YouTube video later. Or maybe record themselves brushing to compare it to what they are seeing in the YouTube video. – Michelle Strange, R.D.H., co-host of A Tale of Two Hygienists

best dental patient education

20. The materials must be backed by research.

The single most important factor in patient education resources is accuracy of information based on expert opinions. I think it’s critical that a patient referencing any material choose a source that has an industry leader speaking to the issue. A quick survey on the internet won’t predictably bring up the best sites with evidence-based research and literature supporting what they are reading. The average patient is probably not qualified to ascertain the clinical realities and truths that an expert would address. – MaryAnne Salcetti, D.D.S., P.C.

I want the education material to be rooted in truth, having a scientifically-proven backing. This stems from having pictures that are not accurately drawn or explanations by clinicians that was the "current" thought from 30 years ago. They haven’t updated their delivery to the patient with current information because they either don’t take many CE courses or don’t like change. – Andrew Johnston, R.D.H., co-host of A Tale of Two Hygienists

21. Find materials that are patient-focused, not doctor-focused.

The patient education resource must speak to the patient, meaning there should be relevance to the patient of what is being presented. – Mark Fleming, D.D.S.

I look for patient education resources oriented toward a point in the patient's experience.  – Doug Benting, D.D.S., M.S., F.A.C.P.

I think that the resource should be developed in conjunction with patients, not just doctors. If the goal is to a stimulate treatment or minimize confusion, the consumer should play a significant role. – Jeff Rouse, D.D.S.

22. Stay consistent to your practice philosophy.

Be sure the content, message and philosophy gel with the philosophy and style of your practice. What I mean by this is a staff member in a high-volume office might sit a patient in a room and say, "Watch this video and then someone will be back." That sort of education piece would be way different than a low-volume, higher-touch office that would stay with the patient, watch a short video with them and connect with the patient in a much more personal manner. And keep in mind while I used videos as examples above, the same goes for printed stuff. Go over it with them whenever possible. – John Carson, D.D.S., P.C.

Of course, the material needs to be consistent with the clinician’s care philosophy and skill level. In other words, an effective patient education system must be adaptable to each clinical situation and cover reasonable treatment options with broad strokes that allows the clinician to elaborate on each individualized treatment plan. – Kevin Huff, D.D.S.

Make certain the clinical concepts discussed in the education matches the dentist’s belief system. – Jim McKee, D.D.S.

What I look for in patient education is consistency in the message. My patients need to hear the same thing from the reception area to the clinical area to the front desk. I look for tools that help me coordinate this message through consistent branding and visuals. – Wes Mullins, D.D.S., F.A.G.D., co-host of The Dental Guys Podcast

23. Seek our patient education resource providers that include videos for lobby viewing.

I need patient education resources that are not designed simply as info-tainment to be looped in the reception room. They need to be designed for direct interaction with the patient in the conference room or operatory so that the education is about something that patient cares deeply about: themselves. The resource must be designed to be paused so I can stop and tie the information to the observations and findings for that patient as part of a discussion of findings. When they can be used in either setting they do double duty, creating questions in patients who might be interested, and providing support for the dental team through a third-party reference about the findings for that specific patient. – Gary DeWood, D.D.S., M.S.

Bonus tips for optimizing dental patient communication

Create the right setting before delivering the message.

I have personally found that the best way to execute and then educate our patients is to first create a safe environment, like a consult room, and show photos that allow patients to visualize and physically see the concerns of the provider. Tools like PowerPoint or Keynote help a dental office organize the information so a patient can best receive and digest the information a dentist is providing.  This setting is when you can best connect with a patient, away from the intimidating aspects of dentistry, and allow the patient to feel comfortable and willing to truly listen.  This approach allows the patient to understand and then become vested in their dental health. – Andy Cohen, D.M.D.

Highlight the services your practice provides.

The best patient education resources are those that highlight the services you provide in your office. In my office, we place dental implants. Our waiting room has photos and videos playing on the TV that has pictures depicting the benefits of dental implants. We also have slides that show the negative outcomes that come along with tooth loss and bone loss. This is a great way for us to educate our patients and also to encourage them to ask us more questions about dental implants. – Joe Blalock, D.M.D., co-host of Life and Dentistry Podcast

Train the dental practice team on educating the patients in a consistent manner

It is my belief that in order to implement positive change, you must first gain knowledge and become proficient in the material.  As you become competent, you will be able to get your staff on board so your message in educating patients about a particular topic is consistent. – Andy Cohen, D.M.D.

Create your own patient education material with intraoral photography.

The intraoral camera is a huge patient education resource in my office. It builds patient education as well as increased confidence and trust in me as their clinician. When a patient can see what their issues and problems are instead of me simply telling them, it makes treatment acceptance much greater. – Scotty Blanchard, D.M.D., co-host of Life and Dentistry Podcast

Obviously, photography is a must, so they can see that cracked tooth or worn enamel. That is probably the best education of all. – Jason Lipscomb, D.D.S., co-host of the Dental Hacks

Don’t forget about the patients who try to educate themselves before they come to you.

I think the way we discuss treatment and educate patients is changing. 20 years ago, patients really relied on the clinician to diagnose and explain the necessity for certain treatment. I am finding that patients are already coming into our practice pretty educated. Especially when we start to talk about more advanced procedures such as dental implants, accelerated orthodontics or even soft tissue grafting. They see there is a problem, such as a missing tooth, and they are seeking out the information to find a solution. Therefore, as clinicians, we have to incorporate more videos and educational resources on our websites because patients want to educate themselves prior to even visiting the dentist. By doing this, I believe we stick out as a practice and start to build a layer of trust with those patients prior to even meeting them. – Richard Sullivan, D.D.S., co-host of Millennial Dentist Podcast








Commenter's Profile Image Andrew C.
May 9th, 2018
Wow, power packed article with great information from some amazing clinicians. So many great tips.