by Lory Laughter, RDH, BS
I was a bit surprised by a recent television documentary that focused on the inaccuracy rate of eyewitness accounts during crime investigations. Even when many people observed the same scene, most were wrong when they described what happened. It appears that unfamiliar events confuse the human mind, or we simply choose to remember only aspects that make sense to our own life experiences. Perhaps for many of the same reasons, testimonials are not considered reliable research.
Peer opinion has its place in professional circles and is a great marketing tool. Yet, relying completely on the outlook of others is ineffective data collection, not to mention a bit lazy. The Internet is full of interesting testimonials for all types of products, technologies, and alternative practices. Here are just a few of my favorites.
The tuna sandwich eruption
At www.curetoothdecay.com, a book author describes how he cured his daughter’s crumbling teeth without subjecting her to “painful dental treatments.” He does not say what treatment the dentist recommended or why it was considered painful. Since the point of the website is to sell a book, the details were scarce. One testimonial on the site attests to the effect of diet on gum disease with this description, “One time I ate a tuna sandwich with white bleached flour, and the pus on my gum line erupted INSTANTANEOUSLY. Actually that was the biggest reaction from white bread; I had three large abscess bubbles... Our body just doesn’t like it.” Student
While we cannot be sure why the student experienced such a rapid reaction to the sandwich, the testimony leaves more questions than answers. Most health-care providers presented with this case would ask for a health history and want to see the lesions. Without supporting evidence, it is impossible to draw any scientific conclusion.
Another website devotes an entire page to testimonials on the successes of urine therapy. The treatment is exactly as it sounds — drinking your urine daily. There are testimonials from a “Health Education Library,” where those with M.D. behind or Dr. in front of their names tout the benefits of drinking urine for ailments ranging from migraines to cancer and AIDS. No scientific evidence is presented, only the words of those cured by the treatment.
My favorite testimony from www.shirleys-wellness-cafe.com deals with oral medicine. “A friend cured her periodontal disease with urine. When she told me that, I found your website and tried it for my toothache, which I was taking Vicodin for and expecting to get pulled. After four uses of urine, I went to the dentist and he couldn’t get my tooth to hurt.” While I am happy the writer’s pain subsided, even something as minor as a statement from the dentist confirming the success would add credibility.
Natural or alternative health practices have a place in our society. Credible practitioners provide clinical or laboratory evidence of recommended therapies. In my own quest to find a cure for insomnia, auditory stimulation has proven beneficial. Yet I have no research or basis to suggest this treatment is actually curing my sleepless nights, only a correlation to using the therapy and my ability to catch a few hours of slumber.
Freely sharing information is an important part of our culture, and in no way do I suggest limiting or censoring experiences, suggestions, or testimonials. As professionals, we need to carefully select sources for collecting and sharing health information. Alternative health care is a viable science, but even these less-regulated therapies need scientific research and evidence.
Testimonials, even those that are clever or inspire, do not constitute science. Dental hygiene is a profession based on research and scientific evidence. Listen, read, ponder, and seek truth. For exciting and riveting deduction, nothing beats a good randomized clinical trial, systematic review of the literature, or meta-analysis.
Lory Laughter, RDH, BS, practices clinically in Napa, Calif. She is owner of Dental IQ, a business responsible for the Annual Napa Dental Experience. Lory combines her love for travel with speaking nationally on a variety of topics.
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