Understanding how fluoride information and misinformation is shared in social circles

The importance of accurate medical information has been underscored by 2 years of COVID-19 misinformation that has eroded trust in public health agencies and medical practitioners. A new report shows how mothers are being exposed to fluoride information and misinformation.

Although medical misinformation has been a fact of life since the dawn of modern medicine, helping to fuel the antivax movement, the past 2 years have highlighted just how dangerous and pervasive misinformation can be. Understanding what drives it and who is passing along incorrect information can be one way to tackle the issue. An investigation examines the social relationships that connected mothers to fluoride information and misinformation, which could lead to underutilization of fluoride treatments and an increased incidence of dental caries.1

The investigators recruited mothers who had children aged 3 to 5 years from community-based sites in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the state of West Virginia from 2018 to 2020. They conducted in-person, semi-structured qualitative interviews with the mothers to find out the sources of information about fluoride that the mothers had found with social relationships.

A total of 126 mothers were included in the study. The vast majority (95%) of the mothers identified themselves as non-Hispanic White. Roughly 1 in 3 had an educational attainment of a Bachelor’s degree and 41% had an annual income of less than $50,000. Sixty-one percent of the families had private dental insurance. Eighty-two of the mothers said that they had discussed child fluoride information with people in their social network. For many of these mothers, the most common source of information and misinformation was a family member, some supporting water fluoridation programs and others not supporting them for a variety of reasons, including family members with fluoride allergies. Health care providers were another source of information with many of the mothers saying that their child’s pediatrician or dentist had informed them of the lack of fluoridation and safety discussions occurring when fluoride varnish was applied to a child’s teeth. Community members were another source for both information and misinformation with parent support groups being a typical place for these kinds of discussions. Many of the mothers reported that this mix of information has led to confusion and made it difficult to determine whether any fluoride information is accurate.

The investigators concluded that many mothers were given inconsistent information of fluoride in children, which leads to confusion and an increased inability to determine accuracy. Targeting social relationships with interventions could be a helpful way to improve communication on fluoride.

Reference

1. Burgette J, Dahl Z, Yi J, et al. Mothers’ sources of child fluoride information and misinformation from social connections. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(4):e226414. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.6414