The Importance Of Literacy In The Field Of Dentistry

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Literacy is a form of communication that is made up of three main components; reading, writing and mathematics. It is important because it is used as a form of communication that not every individual may be competent in. In fact, about 1 in 3 people lack basic reading skills which is an essential part of literacy alone. Literacy is what we use to apply for jobs, calculate finances, and to read local newspapers. These examples, for instance, are only a tiny spectrum of what we need and use literacy for. It can become an obstacle to those who may not have a high literacy level as it can affect the decisions they make pertaining to their health and dental care.

Literacy perceived in the field of dentistry is critical because it ensures what we communicate and express as professionals is understood by our patients. Health Literacy As a student dental hygienist, I have caught myself saying words that a patient might not be familiar with. In clinic, I have made mistakes and said words such as caries, decay, and prophy and I have seen the look of confusion in my patient’s faces that signaled me to realize that I was not using lay terms to better communicate with my patients. Before I started dental hygiene school, I never realized how many more technical terms we use in our studies. It can become difficult when we are giving patient education because we need to explain using lay terms. It is important to not use jargon terms and to focus more on lay terms and on a level of communication in which your patient truly can comprehend what you are portraying to them.

After reading Rabinowitz’s article about how people with English as their second language are at a disadvantage, I noticed that as a Hispanic, I see how hard it is for some to communicate back in English. All patient’s literacy level varies and some may have a very low literacy level in which we may not even be aware of. There are different tools we can use to help these people. For instance, we can conduct a needs assessment, improve usability of print and illustrated materials, and assess a patient’s health literacy.

These are all things that will help us determine what our patients literacy level is. As a Hispanic, I have seen how hard it is first hand for even my own parents to express what they needed in the English language. I grew up most of my life translating for the sake of my parents. I would translate for simple things at grocery stores ranging to difficult things such as taxes. I learned after a while how much their literacy level had limited them to receiving the health and dental care that they deserved. My own parents would avoid going to get regular check-ups at both a family physician and at a dental office because of this issue. I realized that it was not due to negligence of their own care, but rather, it was seen as too complicated or a waste for them because of their English literacy level. I believe it is important in our field of dental hygiene to have a good understanding of health literacy and the barriers it can create. People we know with low socioeconomic status, who are racial minorities, and those with a low level of education are not attaining the health care they truly require due to a literacy level barrier. W

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e need to do something to help them visit us and express the extra help they need due to their literacy level. I believe every person deserves fair treatment just like anyone else with or without a high literacy level. This is where literacy becomes an issue because patients are not reading legal documents correctly and will make a mistake that may change their life forever. For instance, in our dental public health class, we saw a video of a woman who did not read the legal documents of her hysterectomy and signed off on them because she was too embarrassed to say she could not read them. Later she found out that she underwent a hysterectomy that she never wanted and knew she needed but somehow, she consented to it on the documents because of her literacy level. This is an error on our part as health professionals. As health professionals we should be going over documents with our patients and making sure they know what they are signing off for.

We should be considering each patient and ask them if what they filled out and consented for is correct. It becomes difficult for us as professionals to help our patients understand a certain treatment. For example, scaling and root planning is what we think as cleaning out a deep pocket infected with bacteria that is eating away at the gums and surrounding bone. When we explain this to our patients, they don’t understand what a 6-millimeter pocket is, or that there is simply a space in between their tooth and gum tissue. They don’t understand how quickly bacteria colonizes a pocket or how important it is to scale and root plane on their teeth to better benefit their oral health.

We as professionals, have to explain treatments such as scaling and root planning on a level of literacy in which our patients can fully grasp what we are explaining. We can use diagrams, pictures, and even before and after pictures that can show them the benefit of this treatment. However, how do we truly know the treatment we went over with our patients is what they have attained? This is where the teach back method plays its role. The teach back method is an excellent tool we can use to help us understand what our patient learned in their own words. Reading these articles gave me an insight of what is going on in the real world outside of clinic. This is what is happening in our dental career every day which is why is important to consider when treating any patient. A patient may feel like they were not understood during an appointment due to their lack of literacy when filling out forms. It is the first thing they do as patients to help us understand their health background. It limits us as clinicians if our patients are not literate because we do not get an accurate health background.

As previously stated, I think it is important for us to explain the documents they are signing. For example, I work at Planet Fitness and have customers sign a membership agreement every time I sign up them up for a gym membership. While I have them sign a pin pad of the membership agreement, I simply state what they are signing for and I ask if they have any question before they sign off on that specific portion of the membership agreement. This is something we should reinforce in our field especially since we use jargon terms such as hypertension that a patient does not understand. If we simply take the time to ask, “do you have any questions over this paperwork?”, or “if there is anything on this form that you may not understand please feel free to let me know and I am more than happy to answer any questions. ” We may get a better outlook and even less intimidation for those who cannot read. After closely reviewing my Fall 2017 public health program presentation, I found that Gisell and I did a well job in considering our target groups literacy level. We made sure to use terms that our Hispanic community were familiar with. This presentation in particular was made so that the Hispanic community would understand because of their literacy level and the different culture. It was really motivating and life changing to see how we made a presentation that spoke to a large group and got to answer questions because they felt comfortable enough to ask. Once you relate to a person and talk to them on their literacy level, I have seen that they truly appreciate it and feel more comfortable expressing their needs and any questions they may have. Health literacy will always continue to be an issue in the health care field. However, health literacy is an issue that we can help change as professionals.

As a professional, it is important to consider all literacy levels since it will help our patients feel more comfortable and understood. It is our jobs as dental hygienist to assure not only giving the best dental care but making sure that we are communicating on the same literacy level as well. After carefully reading the articles, I was touched to see how the author Rabinowitz suggested starting a program for people in a local community to help build their literacy level. This is what we as dental hygienist should be doing in order to help our local community get the help they deserve.

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