Technology in the dental office

Patient education software: technology in the dental office

Brigette R. Cooper


The practice of dentistry is a changing profession. Dental professionals provide an extensive list of treatment for patients, and patients need to be well-informed of these services. Providing this information is an important part of dentistry for dental professionals, but it can also be very time-consuming. Fortunately, today there are many software programs available to help dental professionals communicate information to patients, benefiting both the dental team and the patient.

Communication is a very important aspect between the dental professional and patient. It provides the patient with the reassurance that the dentist, assistant, and hygienist care about them, they are listening, and they have knowledge about the dental topic at hand. Often, the dental professional will talk for quite some time, explaining the necessary treatment or procedure to the patient. After a lengthy description or explanation, the patient will ask the dental professional questions that were just covered. This is just one example of a breakdown in communication between the dental professional and patient. Patients do not remember everything they are told, as they may be overwhelmed with too much information given at one time. Also, words are often not enough for effective communication of recommended dental procedures. Fortunately, with new technology available to the dental team, educating patients is easier than ever by using animated pictures, in addition to words. (1) Animation is very useful when explaining treatment and procedures to the patient, as it shows the patient exactly what area of the mouth is affected and what treatment is necessary to restore the patient’s oral health. When patients understand conditions and treatments, they are more likely to accept the dental team’s recommendations. (1) Patient education software offers a new, exciting option to traditional, explanation-only patient education. Patients who understand their diagnoses and treatment options are more likely to make sound decisions regarding their dental health. (2) With patient education software, dental professionals can effectively explain diagnoses and illustrate dental procedures that may be confusing or difficult for patients to understand.

Patient education software is a three-dimensional (3-D) video display that is an interactive way to educate dental patients on a variety of topics. The software provides 3-D viewing so the patient may see what is going on in his or her mouth. Patient education software can raise the patient’s dental IQ, improve communication, enhance understanding, and increase patient case acceptance. These visual aids can open the door to basic understanding and improve dialogue between the patient and dental professional. (3) The software offers full-motion video, 3-D graphics, and computer animation. It can be used to teach patients about preventive, restorative, and cosmetic treatment options. Some featured topics are crowns, bridges, whitening, implants, veneers, tooth anatomy, oral hygiene, periodontal disease, sealants, and many more. They have interactive components for new perspectives on oral health improvements. In most cases, the presentations explain why treatment is needed, treatment options, consequences of delaying treatment, what the treatment entails, and home care following treatment. (4)

There are many different patient education software systems on the market, ranging from fairly simple programs to very complex. Researching the different systems is recommended prior to purchasing to ensure the system selected will fit the office needs. Some systems have voice-over narration to accompany the animated video, and others simply show the animation, allowing the dental professionals to provide their own explanation. Some programs have customizable text and graphics, which allow you to add digital photographs and text in your own words that are specific to each patient. Other systems allow the dental office to create CDs with presentations on them to send home with the patient. For example, the office could customize a disk for a child coming in for a first dental visit prior to the appointment so the child will know what to expect. This is a great way to prepare the child for his or her first visit and to relieve any anxieties. Some systems allow simultaneous education to patients in the operatory and in the reception area. The patient is able to hear the message multiple times, increasing the likelihood that he or she will understand and retain the information. (4)

Another benefit of some patient education software is the ability to print customized handouts to give to the patient. When the patient leaves the office, he or she can receive a written explanation of each procedure or topic that was covered. For example, when a patient needing a crown leaves the office, he or she will have a written explanation of how a crown is prepared, how many appointments are necessary, and post-operative instructions associated with it. These handouts increase the ability of the patient to understand the recommended treatment, especially after being introduced to the 3-D animation during the appointment. Written explanations are important for the patients to refer to when they are at home. These explanations reinforce and remind the patients what was said and recommended, and they also help eliminate misunderstandings. (1)


There are many patient education software systems available to dental professionals today. Patient education software is an excellent way to educate dental patients regarding recommended treatment and services offered by the dental team. It gives the patient thorough, easy-to-understand information on many different dental topics. It keeps the patient engaged in learning through the interactive, animated, 3-D video display. Patient education software can greatly enhance any dental practice.


1. Ainsworth DS. Communicating with your patients. Dental Economics 1997;87:48-50,52.

2. Coles B. Multimedia dental patient education systems. Journal of Canadian Dental Association 1996;62:247-8.

3. Little D, Graham L. New technology improves patient communication. Dental Economics 2006;96:48-54.

4. Accessed April 7, 2007.

Brigette R. Cooper, RDH, MS, is an assistant professor in the dental hygiene program at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

COPYRIGHT 2007 American Dental Assistants Association

COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group