Communicating with colleagues

Good interpersonal skills have never been more important for dental professionals.

It's common for patients to receive care from various members of the dental team – because of specialist referrals, for example, or from hygienists and therapists working under direct access.

Communication can take place in person, in writing, by phone or indirectly.

But no matter who is involved, good, clear communication skills between dental professionals are vital for good patient care. It is important for all parties to recognise and respect each other's' roles and views in order to develop good working relationships.

Keep it clear

To maintain the best quality of care for patients, all members of the dental team must communicate clearly and effectively with each other. This is especially important when delegating treatment, referring a patient to a specialist or ordering dental appliances from a laboratory.

  • Have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve and how it'll be done before discussing tasks with others.
  • When you ask someone else to carry out treatment, give them the information they need and make it easy for them to raise any queries. Check they have understood your request, as appropriate. Try to be specific about terms of engagement, quality assurance and deadlines.
  • When making a referral, check the referral letter and any records, casts, scans or radiographs include all the relevant information, such as the patient's medical, dental and social histories, clinical findings and diagnosis, and treatment plan. Specify the precise nature of the work and the expected outcome.
  • A practice protocol will help make sure all relevant information is documented clearly when patients are referred. Record all team members involved in decision making.
  • If you receive a referral letter where the details are unclear, contact the referring dental professional for clarification.
  • When ordering a dental appliance from a laboratory for the first time, or if the order is quite complicated, it's sensible to check the order has been received and is understood.

Be open and honest

The GDC expects dental professionals to treat colleagues "fairly and with respect, in all situations and all forms of interaction and communication".

You should make every effort to be approachable and open so that colleagues are comfortable discussing a patient's treatment and can address concerns.

Take time to reflect on any adverse incidents caused by a failure in communication with a colleague. Consider whether steps need to be taken to improve communication within the practice – for example, with staff attending professional training courses. Shared learning can be a valuable exercise.

Manage conflict

When using social media sites or other public media, the GDC says that dental professionals "must not make personal, inaccurate or derogatory comments about patients or colleagues".

Make sure your practice has an anti-bullying policy in place so that members of the team are treated with respect.

This page was correct at publication on 05/11/2021. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.


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