Toothache? Try Twitter!

Toothache? Try Twitter!

Patients are turning to Twitter and Facebook in the search for antibiotics to cure toothache.

A study carried out by Dr Wendy Thompson and Dr Rachel Emmott at The University of Manchester, found patients also seek antibiotics in order to avoid dental treatment or when unable to access urgent dental care.

The findings mirror previous research led by Dr Thompson in 2020 which showed that dentists increased dental antibiotic prescribing by 25% in England during the COVID-19 crisis, when dental services were less accessible.

 “While antibiotics do not cure toothache, it is surprising that so many of the social media users had experienced taking antibiotics for toothache,” said Dr Thompson.

It’s estimated that dentists prescribe 10% of all antibiotics prescribed for human consumption.

Studies carried out in the UK and United States have demonstrated that up to 80% of antibiotic use is unnecessary and therefore contributes to an increase in antibiotic resistance.

The study found that some social media users reported having to wait up to a week in severe pain before being able to access treatment. 

The researchers found that some people seek out antibiotics in order to try and avoid dental appointments, either due to a fear of dental treatment or the anticipated cost.

The researchers said “People are known to regularly seek antibiotics for toothache from non-dental professionals, including general practitioners and in emergency departments. Self-medication by people with toothache is also reported.”

The study, just published in The International Journal of Pharmacy Practice,  examined 144 posts on Twitter and Facebook over two years, based on the search terms antibiotic, dentist, and tooth-ache.

According to the researchers, because the search criteria was tightly defined the number of entries was higher than expected, indicating that the phenomenon is likely to be common.

Dr Thompson said there is a general belief that antibiotics are an appropriate and necessary treatment for toothache.  

“Some people believe antibiotics are always the appropriate treatment for toothache and are frustrated or disappointed when they are not prescribed.”

“In this sample of social media users, the misplaced belief that antibiotics are an appropriate treatment for toothache was widespread.

“Users attributed their behaviour to poor access to professional dental care, but also  avoiding dental appointments because of anxiety and the perceived affordability of dentistry.”

“And a  range of strategies to cope with the severe impact toothache was having on people’s quality of life were identified, from prayer to antibiotics.”

The study found that more than half of all the posts described varying degrees of physical pain, describing the severity with terms including ‘agony,’ ‘excruciating’ and ‘unbearable.’

Social media posts related to the search for antibiotics indicated that users felt they were unable to cope.    

Speaking about the research paper ‘Antibiotics for toothache: A social media review,’ Dr Thompson  added said “Managing this behaviour through addressing people’s expectations and desire for antibiotics to cope with toothache should be part of our strategy in tackling antibiotic resistance.

“That means appropriate access to professional dental care for those with acute toothache, including for people with fear of dentistry and people on low incomes, should be integral to health services reviews of dentistry.

“Furthermore, the time is now ripe for these important issues for dentistry to be included in the government’s next UK 5-year national action plan on tackling antibiotic resistance.”


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