Accommodating Patients with Deafness

Practical considerations to maximize communication and awareness are crucial in the treatment of individuals with hearing impairments in the operatory setting. The following simple suggestions may prove helpful:

  • Ask the patient about his or her preferred mode of communication. He or she may, for example, use lip-reading, written or computerized notes, or require an interpreter. If the patient requires a sign language interpreter, the clinician is required by law (under the Americans with Disabilities Act) to provide one.
  • Positioning is an important part of effective communication when working with individuals who read lips (speech reading), or who use speech reading as a supplement to other forms of communication. Dental staff must also remember to remove face masks when communicating with the patient.
  • Background noise, as well as the noise created by some dental tools, can impair a patient's ability to understand speech, if he or she has some hearing loss or uses an assistive hearing device. Shutting windows, turning off background music, and turning off noisy dental tools during conversation all can have a significant positive effect on the patient's ability to hear and comprehend conversation.
  • If the dentist is preparing to use a noisy dental tool, it is helpful to inform the patient so that he or she can turn down the volume on an assistive listening device.
  • Establish a means for communicating pain or other necessary information prior to beginning treatment. This is especially important if the patient is deaf or will need to turn off his or her assistive listening device(s). See the Importance of Nonverbal Communication Resource for more information.


Champion, J, & Holt, R. (2000). Dental care for children and young people who have a hearing impairment. British Dental Journal, 189, 155-159.

Venkatagiri, H.S. (2002). Clinical implications of an augmentative and alternative communication taxonomy. Augmentative and Augmentative Communication, 18 (1), 1-24.

Zwakhalen, S.M., van Dongen, K.A.J., Hamers, J.P.H., & Abu-Saad, H.H. (2004). Pain assessment in intellectually disabled people: Non-verbal indicators. Issues and Innovations in Nursing Practice, 45, 236-245.