David Bretton explores the benefits and challenges young dentists may face when using social media accounts.

Social media covers a number websites and online applications that enables users to create and share content or to participate in social networking. This includes, but is not limited to, sites such as: Twitter, Youtube, Linkedin, Instagram and Facebook. I think it would be fair to assume that nearly every one of us is involved in social media in some way; even your pet dog probably has its own Facebook or Instagram account! Social media is not only playing a major role in our personal lives, but more of us are using it professionally too – dentistry is no exception.

Social media has a wide range of uses in dentistry, with different social media platforms offering different ways of sharing content. The main uses of social media in dentistry are: networking, education, marketing and recruitment. This article will explore some of my thoughts on social media in dentistry: the good, the bad and the ugly!

The good

Dentistry has the potential to be an extremely lonely job, particularly for those working in general practice. Social media has enabled dentists from all over the world to engage with one another, preventing the feeling of isolation. Dentistry is well recognised as one of the most stressful professions with one of the highest suicide rates. To have a support network of people around you to share experiences and discussions with can be critical for maintaining good mental health.

Social media has greatly increased the accessibility to some of the greatest dentists in the profession. My social media network for example has allowed me to message some of the very best people in their fields. Just by messaging photos/radiographs through social media I am able to provide my patient’s with several specialist opinions before my patient has even left the surgery. Some of these clinicians are even open to mentoring colleagues and allowing them to spend time shadowing them in their practices. This can be absolutely invaluable, particularly to young dentists.

Good job opportunities in dentistry sometimes seem limited and difficult to come by. Social media is transforming the job market – many of the best opportunities are advertised on there and usually never even make it to advertisements elsewhere.

Social media provides a great platform to share cases and have discussions. This can be extremely educational as you are able to learn from other people’s cases and seek opinions from other colleagues on cases you may have. Observing work completed by more experienced and talented clinicians can be highly inspirational for younger colleagues who are able to see what is possible, with further training and practice.

The bad

I find that most of my day is either spent staring into people’s mouths or staring down at the screen of my phone (my girlfriend and dental nurse will both testify to this). The risk of musculoskeletal problems from poor posture in dentistry is well documented and a recognised occupational risk. Unfortunately similar postural problems can occur form staring at your phone screen too much, termed ‘smart phone slump’.

Constant social media use is also extremely time consuming and can have damaging effects on our ‘real life’ relationships. Unfortunately, while we would like to believe that all the online relationships we build are genuine and real, Oxford University psychology professor, Robin Dunbar, recently studied Facebook users, concluding that most of your Facebook friends are probably not ‘real’ friends. The addictive nature of social media also means that many of us reach for our phones when we get into bed; this means that social media is likely also having negative impacts on our sleep.

While it is great to see the high quality of work that is achievable by other colleagues, it is important to remember that we are viewing select cases that have been ‘cherry picked’ for social media. In some cases it is not everyday dentistry and we shouldn’t allow these cases to intimidate us or make us question the quality of our own work. We should remember that individuals do not share things that aren’t going right for them. Do not compare your reality to someone else’s highlight reel!

Education from social media can be particularly dangerous for students and young dentists. The work showcased on social media may not be evidence based or current accepted practice. This is particularly relevant in international dental groups where more destructive dentistry may be considered normal. It is important that UK dentists deliver the type of conservative, evidence-based dentistry that we are taught, and which our regulators expect from us. Students are particularly at high risk as they will still be working towards their dental degree and they should focus on what they are taught as this is what they will be examined on.

When sharing cases on social media it is essential to protect our patient’s confidential information. Information/photos should only be shared when correct informed consent is gained. The GDC has stressed the need for this in
its Standards.

The ugly

Networking on social media with other dentists can be very positive, friendly and supportive. Unfortunately, like any social situations, there may also be some negative interactions. The term ‘trolls’ has become recognised to describe individuals who start arguments or aim to upset others online. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of ‘trolls’ in the dental community. 

The GDC has outlined guidance on social media. The GDC Standards state: ‘You must treat colleagues fairly and with respect, in all situations and all forms of interaction and communication. You must not bully, harass, or unfairly discriminate against them’. This guidance includes interaction and communication on social media. This sort of online behaviour can be particularly damaging to young dentists if it is coming from more experienced and talented clinicians who they look up to.

While disagreements and discussions should be encouraged on social media, we should remain respectful of each other – I feel that there are enough challenges and obstacles already for us in dentistry without arguments and bullying one another online. It is important to recognise that what may be considered ‘banter’ to one individual may not be to another.

Conclusion

To conclude, there is no doubt that social media is an invaluable tool in dentistry. It should however be used with great care, as there are many risks that can have disastrous consequences for our mental health, our colleagues and our patients.