Do you know what your patients are reading on social media?

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Do you know how your patients are getting their oral health information?

New research has revealed that patients can consume false or inaccurate advice when it comes to their teeth.

The study was put together by Heidi Barrow, a dentist at Savernake Dental Practice and Maria Morgan, a retired senior lecturer in dental public health and an honorary public health specialist (dental) for Public Health Wales.

Analysing the quality of oral health information available, the pair looked at 30 dental-related Facebook posts during National Smile Month in 2019. These were reviewed against national dental public health guidelines, such as Delivering Better Oral Health, to work out whether the oral hygiene information shared was evidence-based.

Influence of social media

They found that most of the oral health information posted was evidence-based. This was especially the case if it was shared via dental charities and dental campaign pages.

For example the Oral Health Foundation and the National Smile Month Campaign posted accurate and evidence-based advice, adhering to UK guidelines most of the time.

However, there were some pages – often those with a business incentive – that posted inaccurate or false oral health advice.

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They called for more regulation so that only accurate evidence-based oral health information is posted on social media.

Additionally the study concludes that the dental team needs to be aware of the potential of misinformation. With this in mind, they should only direct patients to pages recognised as being evidence-based and quality information sources.

Lead author Heidi Barrow said: ‘With social media’s increasing popularity, it seems effective to use it to promote oral hygiene advice to a large range of people quickly; especially during the Covid pandemic where face-to-face dental appointments have been reduced. With this in mind, I was interested to see the quality of information being posted to the general public.

‘The more social media posts I looked at, the more I discovered the surprising amount of non-evidence-based information being shared by people or companies with a dental background. I think this is important to highlight to both dental professionals and the public.

‘This is so we can guide them to more reliable information (either from the guidelines themselves or the more responsible social media pages). This will hopefully incentivise improvement in the regulation of oral hygiene advice on social media.’

Signposting reputable sources

Co-author Maria Morgan added: ‘Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have become part of everyday 21st-century life, everyone has access to them!

‘Social media is a very helpful tool to share health related information. Indeed it has been used to good effect during the Covid pandemic to share information about how to access dentistry.

‘Both patients and members of the dental team access dental health-related information via these platforms. But often not fully appreciating the quality of the content.

‘It is important that as a profession we can sort the “wheat from the chaff” with regards to reliable sources and robust content.

‘This paper helps members of the dental team appreciate the nature of social media content. And how to recognise and subsequently signpost to reputable sources.’


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