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Online Dental Information: Marvel or Myth?

  • by Zeynep Barakat, DMD, FAGD
  • Jun 23, 2017, 10:41 AM
No doubt we’ve all used or heard the phrase, “I read it on the internet.” But what this exactly means is unknown, not to mention risky. I’m certain that countless health care providers hear it all the time from their patients and clients. I gather information from the internet, too. Is an internet search a good thing or bad thing? It may be both. 

Naturally, being able to sort through the infinite amount of available information is no easy task and, just like the products at the eye level of grocery shelves that draw our attention, we focus on the first few search results. Those results are not there by accident. Their placement is the result of a highly sophisticated algorithm that is computed with utmost binary accuracy. That’s wonderful and “informative,” but it still may not give me the answer I’m looking for. And that’s just the point; it’s not supposed to. Rather, it gives you information. For those who can remember, that information used to come from a collection of thick, heavy books called “encyclopedias.” Just substitute “encyclo” for “Wiki,” and you have your 2017 version.

Where am I going with this? In comes my patient who tells me she read about a procedure online and then decided against it. How did she come to that conclusion? If we search via Google for “root canals,” for example, thankfully the American Association of Endodontists (AAE) has the upper hand on the information. But scroll a little more, and it’s stunning to see myths about root canals that are available by clicking just one search result below that of AAE’s.

When I was considering Lasik surgery on my eyes, I had a hard time not reaching for my computer and simply typing “Lasik surgery” into a Google search bar. Instead, I consulted with my optometrist, who gave me advice not only based on evidence-based research, but that also tied in to the particulars of my case. Decision made.

If the internet was to provide us with the answers to our medical and dental questions, I think health care providers would have easy careers. I’m not against being informed; on the contrary, that is the basis for our “informed consent” forms. If we’re not informed, we’re not making an educated decision about dental procedures.

However, that information must be credible, scientifically valid and accurately apply to a particular situation. I think dentists should give patients sources that are sound and ethical from which they can draw reliable information on their own time. Then they can tie it all together in an open discussion to reach a solution best suited for the patient.

Now, that advice should be available on the internet.
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