Assessing Dental Hygienists' Communication Techniques for Use with Low Oral Health Literacy Patients

Priscilla Flynn, Amit Acharya, Kelsey Schwei, Jeffrey VanWormer, Kaitlyn Skrzypcak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


PURPOSE: This primary aim of this study was to assess communication techniques used with low oral health literacy patients by dental hygienists in rural Wisconsin dental clinics. A secondary aim was to determine the utility of the survey instrument used in this study.

METHODS: A mixed methods study consisting of a cross-sectional survey, immediately followed by focus groups, was conducted among dental hygienists in the Marshfield Clinic (Wisconsin) service area. The survey quantified the routine use of 18 communication techniques previously shown to be effective with low oral health literacy patients. Linear regression was used to analyze the association between routine use of each communication technique and several indicator variables, including geographic practice region, oral health literacy familiarity, communication skills training and demographic indicators. Qualitative analyses included code mapping to the 18 communication techniques identified in the survey, and generating new codes based on discussion content.

RESULTS: On average, the 38 study participants routinely used 6.3 communication techniques. Dental hygienists who used an oral health literacy assessment tool reported using significantly more communication techniques compared to those who did not use an oral health literacy assessment tool. Focus group results differed from survey responses as few dental hygienists stated familiarity with the term "oral health literacy." Motivational interviewing techniques and using an integrated electronic medical-dental record were additional communication techniques identified as useful with low oral health literacy patients.

CONCLUSION: Dental hygienists in this study routinely used approximately one-third of the communication techniques recommended for low oral health literacy patients supporting the need for training on this topic. Based on focus group results, the survey used in this study warrants modification and psychometric testing prior to further use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)162-169
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of dental hygiene : JDH
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2016 The American Dental Hygienists’ Association.


  • communication techniques
  • dental hygienists
  • oral health literacy


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