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Improve Patient Communications With Motivational Interviewing

Why is improving your patient communication skills important?

Why is improving your patient communication skills important?

Taking the time to communicate clearly, and listen carefully, results in happy patients. Happy patients are more likely to begin and continue care and have longer lasting healthy outcomes.

Other benefits of improving patient communications include:

  • Fewer complaints
  • Improved productivity and efficiency
  • Enhanced patient experience
  • Boosted dentist's self-confidence and job satisfaction
  • Reduced stress

What is motivational interviewing and how does it improve patient communication?

Motivational interviewing helps patients discover the reasons why they should improve their dental care habits. Motivational interviewing also encourages patients to comply with recommended treatment.

3 Principles of Motivational Interviewing for Dentists

Motivational interviewing (MI) is a conversation style that strengthens a patient's motivation to make a change. The patient voices the reasons for change, which helps to encourage acceptance.

The four main skills of motivational interviewing (defined as OARS) are:

  • Open-ended questions
  • Affirming
  • Reflecting
  • Summarizing

During motivational interviewing, the dentist shifts the conversation. The patient does most of the talking.

1. Express Empathy

Your patient may feel ambivalent about making a change. Use reflective listening and non-judgmental curiosity to show respect and to understand the patient’s behavior.

2. Don't Argue

If you meet resistance, the patient may have more questions or may not be ready to make a change. Arguing or debating with a patient is counterproductive.

Instead, answer resistance with a reflective statement –

  • “I’m not sure I understand. Please tell me more.”
  • “I see this is really important to you.”

Emphasize that they are free to make a choice –

  • “Of course, it’s your decision."

3. Self-Reliance and Encouragement

The patient's willingness to change and believing that change is possible is an important motivator.

Assess patient confidence by asking –

  • “On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident are you that you can change your habits?”

If the patient answers, "3," ask them –

  • "What would it take for you to be at 8?"

Close the conversation by offering additional information or assistance.

Motivational interviewing encourages clear, positive, and empathetic patient communications. Your patients will be more willing to accept a recommended treatment or make a positive change leading to improved oral health. Plus, a happy patient usually becomes a loyal patient who refers family members and friends.


Preventistry Pulse


The newsletter designed for anyone who wants to improve oral health for themselves, their families, customers or communities.