Dental assistants know the importance of communication in the dental office. Each day, dental assistants communicate with patients in two ways — nonverbally, with a friendly, welcoming and comforting smile; and verbally, providing soothing reassurance and patient education.

For some patients, communicating verbally with healthcare professionals may be difficult, due to a language barrier. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 20% of people speak a language other than English at home. The most popular languages spoken in the U.S. other than English are Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese and French.

Being able to communicate to all patients is an important skill for dental assistants. Dental assistants who speak more than one language have shared with us how this knowledge has helped them be there for patients in many ways.

For instance, Mariela R. works as a chairside dental assistant in a rural county in southeastern Arizona, bordering Mexico. In her role in public health dentistry, she sees many patients who need dental care, but not all speak English.

“I truly cannot believe how many people are underserved in my community — the poor, the impoverished, the scared and the young,” she says. “One thing that does help me is that I am bilingual. I speak Spanish, so I can help the providers care for the patients in their own language, making them feel more comfortable and confident about their care.”

“I speak Spanish, so I can help the providers care for the patients
in their own language.”
— Mariela R.

Gousfin H., who speaks English, Arabic and a small amount of Spanish, says being multilingual gives her an “edge” in the dental office.

“Speaking multiple languages helps me bridge the gap and help to provide the best care for patients,” says Gousfin.

“Many patients are unable to communicate with the dentist about what is bothering them or even convey the type of pain they are having due to a language barrier,” she explains. “I am happy to act as a liaison between the two. Being multilingual brings great value to my work.”

“Speaking multiple languages helps me bridge the gap
and help to provide the best care for patients.”
— Gousfin H.

Guadalupe C., CDA, agrees it’s an advantage to be a bilingual employee at the dental office where she works as a chairside dental assistant.

“I have been able to help out those who otherwise would not have been able to come in due to a language barrier,” says Guadalupe, who grew up in Chile. Her first language is Spanish; her second, English.

Elizabeth P., CDA, speaks Polish in addition to English and has been able to translate for patients at work. Elizabeth recalls a time when a Polish woman brought her daughters to the pediatric dental office where she works as a dental assistant. The woman spoke no English and had no insurance for her daughters — but luckily, Elizabeth was able not only to communicate with her, but also relate to her.

“I know the struggles of assimilating in a new country,” explains Elizabeth, who was born in Poland in 1991 and moved to the United States in 2004. “I helped my parents when we moved to the U.S. when I was 13.”

Thankfully, she could translate for the woman during the appointment and help her access all the information she needed to get insurance.

“The woman could not thank me enough when she was able to bring her now-insured daughters back for treatment,” Elizabeth recalls. “I was their dental assistant.”

Are you bilingual or multilingual? Share your story with us!