Public Health Surveillance of Dental Pain via Twitter

Department of Preventive and Restorative Dental Sciences, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94143-0758, USA.
Journal of dental research (Impact Factor: 4.14). 09/2011; 90(9):1047-51. DOI: 10.1177/0022034511415273
Source: PubMed


On Twitter, people answer the question, "What are you doing right now?" in no more than 140 characters. We investigated the content of Twitter posts meeting search criteria relating to dental pain. A set of 1000 tweets was randomly selected from 4859 tweets over 7 non-consecutive days. The content was coded using pre-established, non-mutually-exclusive categories, including the experience of dental pain, actions taken or contemplated in response to a toothache, impact on daily life, and advice sought from the Twitter community. After excluding ambiguous tweets, spam, and repeat users, we analyzed 772 tweets and calculated frequencies. Of the sample of 772 tweets, 83% (n = 640) were primarily categorized as a general statement of dental pain, 22% (n = 170) as an action taken or contemplated, and 15% (n = 112) as describing an impact on daily activities. Among the actions taken or contemplated, 44% (n = 74) reported seeing a dentist, 43% (n = 73) took an analgesic or antibiotic medication, and 14% (n = 24) actively sought advice from the Twitter community. Twitter users extensively share health information relating to dental pain, including actions taken to relieve pain and the impact of pain. This new medium may provide an opportunity for dental professionals to disseminate health information.

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    • "We discovered much more prevalent directions towards tweets which contain links/URLs for either self-help or connecting sufferers with dental professionals who can help. (Heaivilin et al., 2011) categorize these tweets as Spam, but their prevalence was much higher in our study and as such indicates how the use of the Twitter platform has changed. We agree that these tweets target potential dental pain sufferers because they do not appear as particular re-tweets, but we should advocate them if we aim to raise awareness that dental pain should not be ignored at all. "
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