Health literacy issues less of a problem for patients with dental versus medical conditions

Research Activities, March 2012, No. 379

Approximately one in three Americans lack health literacy. They do not have the ability to obtain, process, or comprehend basic health information required to make appropriate decisions about their health. However, a new study suggests that inadequate dental health literacy is not a big problem.

Richard J. Manski, D.D.S., Ph.D., M.B.A., of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and colleagues surveyed low-income patients seeking care for dental problems or injuries from physicians' offices, emergency departments, or dentists. They found that 10 percent said they had difficulty understanding what they were being told. A smaller percentage (4.9 percent) of patients said they found it hard to understand the dental or medical forms they were asked to complete. Finally, 6.9 percent reported that they had difficulty getting the health care provider to understand their dental problem or injury.

The difference in these findings and general health literacy findings may be due at least in part to the more direct and less complicated nature of patient-provider interactions surrounding dental problems, suggest the researchers. Dental encounters generally involve less complicated diagnostic procedures and treatment and demand less of the patient in managing their conditions than do medical encounters. This study did find that males and Hispanics were more likely than others to experience a problem. Those surveyed were low-income white, black, and Hispanic adults who had experienced a dental problem or injury in the preceding 12 months.

See "Health literacy impact on patient-provider interactions involving the treatment of dental problems," by Leonard A. Cohen, D.D.S., Arthur J. Bonito, Ph.D., Celila Eicheldinger, B.S., and others in the Journal of Dental Education 75(9), pp. 1218-1224, 2011. Reprints (AHRQ Publication No. 12-R001) are available from the AHRQ Publications Online Store .

Page last reviewed March 2012
Internet Citation: Health literacy issues less of a problem for patients with dental versus medical conditions: Research Activities, March 2012, No. 379. March 2012. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.