Communicating Risks: an Exploration of Uncertainty and Satisfaction in Dentist-Patient Interaction

Date of Graduation

Spring 2004


Master of Arts in Communication



Committee Chair

Charlene Berquist


Communicating risks involved with health care is a difficult task. Health care professionals, such as dentists, are encouraged to initiate discussions about extraction risks with their patients. However, this task often causes increased anxiety and time consumption for the dentist and patient. The purpose of this study was to examine different perspectives in communicating risks with patients. Dentist and patient questionnaires were distributed in three Midwestern dental offices to gather information on their perspective of a risk communication interaction involving the removal of the patient's teeth. In addition to open-ended questionnaires, observation of the interactions was used to record how the dentists and patients behaved during the risk presentation from the dentist. Based on what was observed and what was recorded on the questionnaires, the most significant finding was that perceived similarity and relationships can affect the presentation of risks by the dentist to the patient. Although there is a sense that informed consent is a waste of time from some dentists, dentists are challenged in knowing how much detail to present when discussing risks. When dentists perceive a good relationship or similarity with a patient, risks are presented in favorable satisfaction from patients. Obstacles that served as dissatisfying characteristics of risk discussions for patients included lack of time spent by the dentist in allowing patient to ask questions and conflicting information between patient's personal beliefs and dentist's belief about risks. These findings, as well as others, could aid in possibilities of other exploratory research in understanding the complications of risk discussions.


communication, uncertainty, satisfaction, risk consent, survey

Subject Categories



© Timothy R. Jump