Our message must be clear, to fight fake newsNews
Posted by: The Probe 1st July 2020
For some time now, healthcare practitioners, including dental practitioners, have been fighting that formidable adversary, “fake news”. In fact, only last year an article titled Fake news and dental education appeared in the BDJ, and concluded that “fake news is a global issue and may require a concerted international effort to discredit it and promote real news, (…) we are the ideal front-line soldiers to take on the fight against fake news dissemination”.[i] As well as suggesting strategies to help dental professionals tackle fake news, the article also looked at the mechanisms used to spread misinformation, chiefly (of course!) the internet and social media. Instead of asking a dental professional how to get healthier teeth and improve their smile, a patient can ask the internet instead. Type “natural ways to whiten teeth” into Google and you will get a selection of unproven home remedies from oil pulling to using acidic apple cider vinegar as a mouthwash.
The patient-practitioner relationship, moving forward
Fast forward to mid-2020 and many of us will have not seen our patients for routine preventive-maintenance appointments since early Spring. The coronavirus pandemic has meant that delivering face-to-face care and support has simply been impossible. Helping patients of all ages and situations to improve their oral health and enjoy the life-long, and life-changing, benefits that this brings, is constantly inspiring.
After the outbreak of COVID-19, delivering the oral health message has never been more important. Being in good general health means being in good oral health. But with so many practices closed for weeks and expecting a serious backlog once routine services start again, does this mean that we are even more at the mercy of fake news? How did the closure impact on our patients, the trust they have in us and how effectively we communicate with them?
The big question here is whether the ongoing coverage of the pandemic meant more, or less public trust in the news media when it comes to their health, including their dental health. There is no answer to this, but what all dental professionals can do is to grab this golden opportunity to influence positive change and deliver our message more effectively to more people in order to first inform, then inspire and support.
A consistent message
For a message to be effective, it has to be consistent. For many people, the news media’s coverage of the pandemic has been frustrating – the 24-hour news cycle and often conflicting narratives led a lot of us to switch off. But despite any lingering mistrust, a balance has to be found, in order that none of us miss out on any essential information whenever it is given.
As dental professionals, we must be clear and consistent, to help patients implement effective daily preventive behaviours and accept our advice. We must be fully committed to ongoing education so that we can answer all concerns fully, in an informed way. We might have to do some things a little differently in future, but we must always want to do everything better. We must give our patients all the information they need to empower them, so that they want to work with us and take on board all our advice. We must look for extra strength in numbers too – so, if you have not done so already, get a professional network around you. The BSDHT is an energetic, proactive and highly focused community of dental hygienists and dental therapists. Although its membership is diverse, it shares a commitment to the highest quality patient care and clinical excellence. Working together, we can not only bust dental “fake news” but, by helping our patients to understand the relationship between oral health and general good health, we can also help them to make long-term changes for a healthier and happier life. By sharing ideas about how to reach patients and really make an impact, we will inspire each other as well as them.
It has been a confusing and often frightening time for all of us. But for patients bewildered by information overload, not knowing where to turn for the “correct” advice and possibly feeling adrift by the lack of access to dental care, this confusion could be overwhelming.
As we cautiously emerge from lockdown, dental practitioners must hit the ground running. Time away from the job we love has taught us how much of a true privilege it is to see our patients face-to-face, to help them improve, then maintain their oral health-related quality of life. It has also taught us how strong we are when we work together, focused as one on delivering excellence. The last few months have reminded us of our key role to educate, inform and give our patients a clear, consistent and effective message. This means promoting “real” news, every day.
For more information about the BSDHT, please visit www.bsdht.org.uk,
call 01788 575050 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
[i] da Silva MA, Walmsley AD. Fake news and dental education. British Dental Journal. 2019 Mar; 226(6): 397-9.
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