Empathy in the dentist-patient relationship: review and application.

L.M. Jones, T.J. Huggins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


Background and objectives: A review of psychology, dental, and medical literature aimed to identify key variables for an ideal dentist-patient relationship. When empathy surfaced as the key positive variable, a further aim, which became the aim of this paper, was to explore how empathy could be intentionally applied. Methods: An online database search, limited to judgementally selected target-words, was conducted for peer-reviewed papers on the dentist-patient relationship. Review guidelines from the American Psychological Association were used to clarify concepts, identify where most work was focussed, and to explore the superiority of any approach to the topic, over another. Results: The distinction between instrumental (information) and affective (emotional) communication was important with empathy being the key variable. Empathy was seen clearly to facilitate improved communication and the experience of dentistry for patient and practitioner alike. Empathy was positively associated with negotiated treatment plans, treatment adherence, increased patient satisfaction, and reduced dental anxiety. However, the concept of empathy was rarely operationally defined, or empirically measured. At best it was a scale score or a theme in qualitative data analysis. As such, applied empathy is discussed as a perceived concept. Dental school curricula and patient request forms were found to have the greatest potential to train dentists to convey empathy, and for patients to perceive empathy. Conclusion: Future directions are proposed, to apply empathy in the dentist-patient relationship through an integrated model of patient-centred communication.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)98-104
Number of pages7
JournalThe New Zealand dental journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Mr Huggins’ contribution was funded by the Tertiary Education Commission as a summer studentship supervised by Dr Jones. He is currently a PhD candidate. Linda M Jones PhD MNZPsS MRSNZ Thomas Huggins BA(Hons)

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 New Zealand Dental Association. All rights reserved.


Dive into the research topics of 'Empathy in the dentist-patient relationship: review and application.'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this