The internet – friend or foe

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  Posted by: The Probe      5th May 2021

In 2020, we spent an average of four hours a day online, the highest figure ever recorded by Ofcom.[i] This won’t come as a surprise, and the reasons why people were connected to their laptops, tablets and smartphones for such a large part of the day hardly need explaining.

You may have mixed feelings about the internet, more specifically about the quality of the information found there. As an oral health practitioner and advocate, you want to engage with, educate and empower your patients to make good decisions, but there can often be a tension between your advice and what they read online. You see your patients infrequently; they can pick up their phone and google whenever they like.

One solution is to harness some of the power of the internet for yourself. But practice websites tend to focus on their role as a marketing tool, rather than an information source. Even if yours does include content about specific treatments, a patient in research mode is unlikely to only be using your site to gather knowledge. It is more feasible they’ll read what you have to say, then click away and continue their online exploring. 

The same applies if you have social media. A practice Facebook page is good for engagement, especially if you create interesting, ‘shareable’ posts, but the internet is a massive place and people will look all over it, especially if they have time on their hands. Including news on your website or social media pages in order to counteract misinformation is possible, but it takes time and effort to maintain and with many dental teams already spread thinly, this might be one challenge too far.

Most of us are influenced by the internet, to some degree. The internet is where word of mouth is louder because news, whether real, fake or somewhere in between, spreads fast. When we see something aspirational online, although logic tells us that this is probably not “reality”, we can still find ourselves tempted to find out more.

We also scroll headlines, which often summarise an entire article without context. When oral health is written about in the general press, complex statistics often lose nuance, leading to a distortion of the true picture. For example, we know that in some areas of the country, access to services has been at a “crisis” point even before the pandemic, with thousands of people simply unable to see a dentist.[ii] So when a headline is population-based, something like “XYZ children under 10 in England have unacceptable levels of tooth decay”, we need to look behind the statistics to find the facts. How many of these children have never had a dental appointment? Whereabouts in the country is the figure lower? These are questions that get swept away by blanket headlines.

For certain treatments, the internet is somewhere between friend and foe. We have seen an increased interest in aesthetic treatments like tooth whitening; readily available online are products that promise to whiten teeth fast, although they are not backed by clinical evidence and may even cause harm. There are also growing concerns about direct-to-consumer orthodontics. For a patient researching their options, despite knowing they should consult a professional, convenience and cost are appealing carrots in this current climate, which might cloud their judgment.

If a patient mentions whitening, this is where you have the opportunity to bridge any gap between what they have seen online and what you know is the better option, based on your knowledge and experience. Wanting to improve their smile is a positive thing and a smile that is beautiful and healthy is attainable, when they take on board your straightforward and practical advice, including recommendations of products that are safe and actually work.

Brighter, whiter teeth can be achieved by something as simple as correcting inadequate cleaning practises. One of the common causes of tooth discoloration is poor cleaning, which your patients might be unaware of, having read online that their love of tea and red wine is solely to blame.[iii] As well as checking brushing technique, suggest they switch to a toothpaste that is clinically proven to whiten teeth and prevent further staining. Arm & HammerTM Whitening Pro ProtectTM toothpaste combines the natural power of baking soda with Liquid CalciumTM technology, or they could try Arm & HammerTM Advance WhiteTM  Pro toothpaste with Micropolisher Technology,TM. which will leave their teeth up to three shades whiter in 6 weeks with twice daily brushing, while forming a protective shield for long lasting whiteness.

A good patient-practitioner relationship is the most effective weapon for challenging online misinformation. Open, honest discussions about what they have read, including treatments that they are interested in, will allow you to establish a responsive, tailored programme of care. With your support, including recommendations of high quality, effective products, maintaining lifelong oral health is possible.

 

For more information about the carefully formulated Arm & Hammerä toothpaste range, please visit https://www.armandhammer.co.uk/ or email: ukenquiries@churchdwight.com

Arm & Hammer™ oral healthcare products are available at Boots, Superdrug, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda and Morrisons throughout the UK.

 

Author

Maxwell O’Neill, professional educator for Waterpik

 

[i] UK’s internet use surges to record levels. Ofcom, 24 June 2020. Link: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/about-ofcom/latest/media/media-releases/2020/uk-internet-use-surges#:~:text=UK%20adults%20are%20now%20spending,into%20the%20nation’s%20online%20lives (accessed January 2021).

[ii] NHS Dentistry: Crisis mounts as patients offered appointments in Aug 2020. BDA, 17 September 2019. Link: https://www.bda.org/news-centre/press-releases/Pages/NHS-dentistry-crisis-mounts-as-patients-offered-appointments-in-Aug-2020.aspx (accessed January 2021).

[iii] Kadam A, Ganachari M, Mahendra Kumar B, Gurunath S. Drug induced tooth discolouration. Internet J Dent Sci. 2008; 7 (2).


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