In the ever-evolving landscape of dentistry, technical knowledge and hands-on expertise have long been emphasized in professional training. Historically, dental school curricula focused predominantly on these elements, often sidelining essential soft skills such as communication.

In the past, dental schools didn't focus on soft skills, such as communication
In the past, dental schools didn't focus on soft skills, such as communication.

As healthcare shifts towards a more holistic, patient-centered model, understanding the nuances of effective listening becomes paramount — especially when navigating diverse patient demographics varying in gender and generational distinctions.

Listening is a crucial skill in any profession. For dentists and their teams, practicing in an environment where trust, understanding, and communication are paramount, mastering the art of listening becomes even more important. This skill can enhance the patient experience, strengthen team dynamics, and improve overall care.

This article explores three types of listening — subjective, objective, and intuitive — while highlighting the importance of adapting communication styles for different age groups and gender contexts. 

Overcoming the Gap in Dental Education

Many dental professionals have voiced that their educational journey was deficient in training around critical communication skills. Here are some ramifications: 

  • Lack of preparedness: While adept in clinical procedures, many dentists find themselves unprepared to handle emotionally charged conversations or detect subtle non-verbal cues, leading to miscommunication. This extends to both patients and members of our teams. 

  • Trust-building hurdles: Effective communication underpins trust. Some dentists struggle to build rapport with their patients and team without formal training, affecting the patient-practitioner relationship, team cohesion, and culture.  

  • Professional growth challenges: Effective communication is essential for networking, building a practice, and maintaining a cohesive team. A deficit in these skills can hamper a dentist's professional and practice growth. 

Development of the soft skills needed to support patients often comes secondary to technical training but is still critical for success.

Here are some ways that dentists can incorporate three types of listening into their practices.

The Three Types of Listening

Understanding different types of listening is essential for effective communication and decision-making in various settings. There are three primary types of listening: subjective, objective, and intuitive. Each type has its unique strengths and applications, and mastering all three can significantly enhance your communication skills and understanding of others.



Interpreting information based on personal feelings, beliefs, and experiences.


Gathering factual and concrete information without personal biases.


Relying on instinct and gut feelings to understand underlying emotions and meanings.


Mastering all three types of listening is essential for effective communication and decision-making
Mastering all three types of listening is essential for effective communication and decision-making.

Subjective Listening

Personal feelings, opinions, and perceptions color subjective listening. When we engage in subjective listening, we relate to what's being said based on our experiences and emotions. It's personal, empathetic and can create a deeper emotional connection. 

Why is it important?
Patients who share their dental anxieties, past experiences, or even their daily life stories want to be understood and valued. However, subjective listening can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, subjective listening can allow dental professionals to empathize with their patients, showing them, they are more than just another appointment. On the other hand, subjective listening can stifle trust by making the patient feel unheard if you only recount your personal experience.

When to use it:
Subjective listening is crucial during initial consultations, addressing fears, or discussing personal patient experiences. It helps in building rapport and trust.


Trust Building Example

Trust Stifling Example

Generational Nuance

Patient: I've always been scared of dental procedures because of a painful experience I had as a child.

Dentist: I'm truly sorry you had to go through that. It's perfectly normal to feel anxious based on past experiences. We'll do everything we can to ensure you're comfortable here. 

Patient: I've always been scared of dental procedures because of a painful experience I had as a child.

Dentist: I'm truly sorry you had to go through that. It's perfectly normal to feel anxious based on past experiences. We do this all the time, and you have nothing to worry about.

Boomer patient: During my time, we didn’t go to dentists unless it was a real emergency.

Dentist: I understand dental care has evolved considerably since then. Our priority now is preventive care to ensure comfort and longevity. 


Objective Listening

Objective listening involves focusing purely on the facts without letting personal feelings or biases intervene. It's about gathering, analyzing, and making decisions based on that information alone. 

Why is it important?
In dentistry, precision and accuracy are crucial. Objective listening ensures the dental team captures accurate details about a patient's dental history, current issues, and other relevant information, leading to more effective treatments and recommendations. 

When to use it:
This type of listening is essential during clinical examinations when taking a medical history or discussing treatment plans. 


Objective Example

Gender Sensitivity Example

Patient: I've been experiencing pain in my lower right molar for about two weeks now. It's especially sensitive to cold.

Dentist: Two weeks, lower right molar, sensitivity to cold. Let's take a closer look at that area to determine the cause.

Female patient: I've read about hormonal changes during menstruation affecting gum health. Is this true? 

Dentist: Yes, hormonal fluctuations can impact gum sensitivity. Regular check-ups can help in monitoring and managing these changes. 



Intuitive Listening

Intuitive listening goes beyond the spoken word. It's about noticing non-verbal cues, the tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. It delves into what's being implied but not directly said.

Why is it important?
 When deployed properly, this can be the most powerful form of listening to exhibit empathy and build trust. Patients (and team members) often might not express their concerns, anxieties, or discomfort explicitly. Intuitive listening allows dental professionals to gauge a person’s comfort level, understand their unspoken needs, and adjust their approach accordingly. 

When to use it:
Intuitive listening is beneficial throughout a patient's visit and when interacting with team members, especially when sensing unease or hesitation or when anyone struggles to articulate their feelings. 


Intuitive Example

Generational Nuance

Patient (looking anxious, fidgeting in the chair): I guess I'm ready for the extraction.

Dentist: It is understandable to be a bit nervous, and I can sense that you're anxious. What would you like to know about the procedure that could put your mind at greater ease? 

Gen Z Patient (while scrolling on a smartphone): I saw this dental trend on social media...

Dentist: Social media can be a place to understand dental trends, some good and some potentially harmful. What trend would you like to discuss so that we can work together and determine what's best for you? 


Navigating Gender and Generational Differences

Recognizing and understanding gender differences and potential biases can enhance patient trust. For instance, women might have specific concerns related to hormonal changes, pregnancy, or menopause, while men might have questions about different risk factors like heart disease linked to dental health. 

Generational differences may also affect the way individuals take in information. Of course, there's a lot of variation between individuals, but generally, generations have distinct communication styles, values, and perspectives shaped by the events and cultural shifts of their respective times. Understanding these differences can help improve communication and foster better understanding across age groups.

  • Baby Boomers: Typically value face-to-face communication, professionalism, and personal touch. 

  • Gen X: Appreciates a blend of traditional communication and technological tools. They value transparency and directness. 

  • Millennials: Tech-savvy, prefer digital communication, but also value personal experiences. They’re more likely to seek peer reviews and do online research. 

  • Gen Z: Digital natives who value authenticity, inclusivity, and social responsibility. They’re more inclined to be influenced by online trends and peer discussions.

Integrating Subjective, Objective, and Intuitive Listening

While the technical proficiency gained in dental school is undeniably crucial, the significance of effective listening and communication cannot be understated. 

Listening is more than just hearing words – it's an art that requires awareness, understanding, and adaptability. In an era where dental care involves catering to diverse patient demographics spanning various age groups and gender identities, effective communication and listening are more critical than ever.

By understanding and integrating three types of listening – subjective, objective, and intuitive – dental professionals can bridge the gap left by traditional education, ensuring that their patients feel heard, understood, and valued. Ultimately, this elevates the standard of care and enhances the overall patient experience. 

Ricardo Mitrani, D.D.S., M.S.D., is a Spear Resident Faculty member.