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Wales: The important role of Welsh speaking dentists

Blog Author Tristan Roberts

Blog Date 01/12/2022

​The ability to speak Welsh brings a wide range of benefits to patients including building a strong rapport and helping to give reassurance. Welsh is more than just a language, for the comfort of patients it's important to overcome the barriers.

Patients of all ages often request to see a Welsh speaking dentist. Speaking the mother tongue helps to put our patients at ease and we can explain treatments or procedures in a clearer way. This can include written correspondence as well, which some patients prefer reading in Welsh.

There aren't many dentists who speak Welsh, there are three in the Cardiff practice I'm currently working in. I am a part of the Welsh Language Dental Society, which has approximately 138 members. We hold an annual conference which is typically attended by approximately 20 to 30 dentists each year, a number we would like to grow in the future.

Some of the biggest barriers for patients seeking a Welsh speaking dentist include translated paperwork and the difficulties around access, with patients across the country struggling to find dental appointments.

Benefits to patients

"Welsh is more than just a language to us and our patients."

Welsh is more than just a language to us and our patients, there is a whole culture that sits alongside it. Patients gain instant reassurance from dentists and staff who can communicate in Welsh and have an appreciation of the culture. You can visually see patients become more relaxed and you gain an unspoken and automatic understanding which helps to build an important bond of trust which is vital in our work.

You see an instant change in patients faces and the interaction with people becomes a lot more friendly. It would be great to see more people learning to speak Welsh across different skill sets in dentistry. Some staff I've worked with in the past have started learning the language which is something we found patients really appreciated and got on board with. We want Wales to be an inclusive country for patients and practitioners.

Even if you don't know much Welsh now or are just beginning the process of learning, it's the effort that counts and helps to build that important connection. Patients put a lot of trust in us when sitting in the chair. It's a great privilege we have as dentists and anything we can do to put people at ease is a huge benefit to everyone and makes the job more pleasant.

What are the challenges?

There are blockages to patients who primarily speak Welsh and would like a Welsh dentist. Translated paperwork isn't readily available to hand out, which is often a challenge, but we try to work around it as best we can to ensure our patients get the best service we can offer. The BDA offer all key policy documents in Welsh as well as English on the BDA Cymru Wales landing page.

"Access and long waiting lists are an issue across the UK but finding a Welsh speaking dentist can prove even more of a challenge."

Access and long waiting lists are an issue across the UK but finding a Welsh speaking dentist can prove even more of a challenge with a limited number available. Numbers of Welsh speaking dentists across the country vary by geographical locations. There are a few hotspots around the country where speaking Welsh is more commonplace, the highest number of Welsh speakers are in Cardiff and Carmarthenshire, but the comparative percentage of people that speak Welsh is highest in Gwynedd and Anglesey.

Currently, there isn't financial support for translation or training dentists wishing to speak Welsh. Grants from the Health Boards to help cover the costs of providing translated paperwork or interpreters would expand the reach and benefit patients.

Patients have expressed concerns about the lack of Welsh speaking dentists. Each year the percentage of dentists leaving dental school that speak Welsh is declining. The Welsh Speaking Dental Society have written a book including dental terminology in Welsh along with common phrases to support communication with patients.

Looking ahead

The ability to speak Welsh saves months of building a rapport with patients by giving you an instant connection. I think it's important that we keep training Welsh speaking dentists in the future. A knowledge of the Welsh culture is an unwritten route of connection with patients, giving reassurance of the same background and a sense of supporting the Welsh community.

The Government is looking to encourage the Health Boards to move in the direction of enhancing Welsh Language provision in a manageable fashion that benefits patients and dentists. Patients who would like a Welsh speaking dentist should be able to request one, ideally prior to an appointment to ensure a smooth experience and prevent appointments from being wasted.

Dentists will always try to do what is right in the interests on patient-centred care, with the resources that are available. I will continue to advocate the use of Welsh in dental practices across the country as well as in schools from a young age to help ensure our next generation of dentists can carry this vital skill to patients across the country.


Tristan Roberts