​The way we communicate with each other has been shaped over the years in mores, trends and values as well as the technology that enhances (or arguably, hinders) the process.

In a health environment-cum-service industry such as dentistry, the etiquette we use talking to patients can be age- culture-, gender- or even perhaps practice-specific.

On countless occasions, we have all been on the phone to a service engineer of some description who, in the process of collating the necessary key information, will ask us our name. First name and surname given, the inevitable question is asked: ‘Do you mind if I call you by your first name?’.

Now, whilst this holds little offence for me or you, it is possible it will do for someone from an older generation, or perhaps a differnet cultural background.

How many of you still refer to the practice principal as ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs’ or 'Dr'? Is your practice team on first-name terms with everyone – colleagues as well as patients?

Patients very often have a different understanding of what is acceptable and familiar and what is not – the nuances of formal and informal communication are not always self-evident, although both have a place in a dental setting.

In a practice with high diversity within its patient base, asking patients how they wish to be addressed and noting this in their files is probably good practice.

But what if the challenges are not simply in how patients are addressed, but are a little more complex, such as on what topic?

In the March issue, we take a look at the issue of sex and its place in medical history taking.

GP and research fellow Richard Ma, from Imperial College London, suggests that all patients should be asked about their sexual orientation.

He argues that it seems ‘a welcome step’ for NHS England to include sexual orientation monitoring in health and social care systems with ‘visibility and honest discussion’ working towards reducing the stigma for those in the LGBT community.

Additionally, the value versus the challenge of offering rapid HIV testing in the dental setting is currently under discussion – and we will cover this topic in-depth in a future issue of Dental Nursing.

And, of course, there continues to be a need to have the HPV prevention discussion with all patients. A report recently revealed that many in the dental community are uncertain if that conversation should happen with the adolescent patient or their parent – and it’s important to note here that HPV could be inactive for years, impacting older patients, too.

Lead author Professor Ellen Daley explains: ‘Given the alarming increase of HPV-attributable oropharyngeal cancers, dentists and dental hygienists may be key agents for promoting HPV prevention.’

Communication with patients is never a ‘one size fits all’ and the challenges are multifarious. The topic of sex is, of course, always a contentious one with any patients and ascertaining sexuality or discussing their sexual behaviours is not a comfortable conversation. Indeed, is it even necessary?

Now turn to The Voice article in this issue to read what some of our contributors think. Sex is defintiely a hot topic!