Practice abstract


British Dental Journal 186, 278 - 281 (1999)
Published online: 27 March 1999 | doi:10.1038/sj.bdj.4800087

Patient care: 
Breaking bad news: a guide for dental healthcare professionals

J T Newton1 & J Fiske2

  • As far as possible spend time preparing for difficult communication situations, giving consideration to the information given, the setting and time constraints
  • When breaking bad news try to explore the patient's view of the bad news, work with the patient to determine the way forward
  • Consider training a member of your dental team in counselling skills
  • Take time to review difficult communication situations. Consider what went well, and what could be improved.


During their professional career most dental practitioners will be faced with a situation in which they have to break 'bad news'. This article examines the communication skills involved in breaking bad news to patients. The process is broken down into three broad stages: preparation; discussing the information; and reviewing the situation. Within each of these stages specific and practical recommendations are given. The importance of recognising the impact which such interactions have upon the dental practitioner is emphasised.

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  1. Lecturer in Psychology in Relation to Dentistry, Department of Dental Public Health
  2. Senior Lecturer/Honorary Consultant, Department of Sedation and Special Care Dentistry, Guy's, King's and Thomas' School of Medicine & Dentistry, King's College, London SE1 9RT

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