Have Patience with Your Patients: How to Treat Hearing-Impaired People


As more than a quarter-million people in the U.S. and Canada understand American Sign Language, hearing-impaired people have options for communicating. While not everyone understands sign language, so many people do that finding one for your practice might be a necessity. If you don’t see that as necessary, you need to at least know what changes you need to make as a dentist when it comes time to communicate with patients.

Here are five ways to ensure hearing-impaired patients at your dental office feel comfortable with their care.

1. Position Yourself Correctly

One of the best ways to communicate with people who have hearing impairments is to make sure that you’re using the space between you correctly. There could be a number of things obstructing your ability to be heard clearly so do everything in your power to be physically positioned correctly.

Face the person who you’re speaking to as directly as possible. If one of you is sitting or standing, make sure that you’re both at the same eye level. Ensure that the lighting is appropriate and that your patient can see and hear your mouth and face.

If there’s a light in their face, move it away. It could obstruct their view of reading your lips and face for context.

Some people have a habit of talking with their hands and putting them in front of their face. Some will talk while chewing gum or eating something. These things obstruct the sounds you make and how well your patient can hear you.

If you deal with a lot of patients who have hearing impairments and you have a beard or a mustache, you might want to reconsider that. Facial hair can obstruct how people read your lips.

Some people only have a partial hearing loss or loss in one ear over the other. Make a note of which ear they hear out of better and position yourself to speak closer to that ear than the other.

2. Avoid Any Interference

When you’re communicating with your patients, you need to eliminate any interferences that could get in the way of communicating. People with a hearing impairment need your help in order to get the most out of your interaction. If you make an important statement about their dental care needs, you can’t risk having it misheard because of potential interference.

Beware of talking to them from another room. If you need to duck into a closet or a side room, wait until you’re back in the same room as them before speaking. If they can’t see you, they might not know what you said or what you’re talking about.

Do everything you can to avoid distortions of your voice. Covering your face or having something in your mouth could make it hard for them to understand every word you’re saying.

Most people with a hearing impairment can’t pick voices out of the mess when there’s a lot of background noise. Speech can become garbled when there’s a loud heating or air conditioning system on. If necessary, turn things down when you’re talking to your hearing-impaired patients.

Be sure to also avoid loud sounds. People with hearing loss could be straining to hear what you’re talking about and leaning into listening. If a loud or high-pitched drill unexpectedly begins, it will upset or even hurt them.

3. Communicate As Best As You Can

To give the best to your patients, you need to be the best communicator that you can. If you’re going to speak to them, speak clearly, enunciating your words and speaking distinctly. Don’t shout or exaggerate your mouth movements as that can distort the sounds that you make.

If someone is trying to speech read, they won’t be able to do that with your mouth moving wildly.

Before you start speaking, say your patient’s name to ensure that they’re listening. When you say someone’s name, they tune in better to what you’re saying and will listen closely to you.

When it comes time to have a serious conversation about their health or medical needs, you need to avoid speaking too fast or having completed conversations. Slow down between your statements to that you can ensure that they’ve heard you before continuing.

If you’re looking for tools for helping your patients, find some resources to learn more about them.

4. Respect The Context

If your patient can’t understand a specific phrase you’ve said or if you’re digging deeper into a specialized concept, find different ways of saying it. Don’t just repeat the same words over and over. That will frustrate both you and the patient and put a hurdle up to giving them the care they need.

Before you begin, ensure that your listener has a familiarity with the general topic you’ll be discussing. If you’re talking about a complicated concept with your hearing impaired patient, respect their perspective and make it easier to understand.

If they have questions, take the time to ensure that you understood them and then answer one piece at a time.

5. Hire An Interpreter

If you’re working with older patients or many who have a hearing impairment, you may need to hire an interpreter to avoid miscommunications. An interpreter will let your fully deaf or hearing impaired patients who understand American Sign Language get the ideal amount of care they need.

When using an interpreter, maintain eye contact with the person you’re speaking with, not the interpreter. Your goal needs to be to communicate clearly with your patient. Your interpreter deserves your respect but in the context of a medical setting, they expect to be just a vessel to communicate.

Hearing-Impaired Patients Deserve Your Consideration

As hearing loss is so common for all people as they age, dealing with hearing-impaired patients needs to be something you consider all the time. Older adults, as well as people of all ages, need to get the care they deserve when it comes to hearing and understanding how their dental care will proceed.

When dealing with older patients, check out this guide for some tips on what to talk about with your retired clientele