Teething Problems: Social networks and their role in dental health

By Meg Thode

            Social networks may be more influential for your dental health than previously considered. That is the center of research which Brenda Heaton, an associate professor at the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Health, presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference in Boston.

Previously, it was believed that one-on-one conversations with patients were the best way to improve habits. Specifically, practitioners emphasized the importance of conversations with mothers to improve the dental health of their children. Heaton has found, however, that these “motivational interviews,” as they are called, are not sufficient to change outcomes. Thomas Valente, an expert in social networks and health care from the University of Southern California (not involved in the research), explains that: “People believe information more when it comes from someone they know or respect, and evidence suggests that people are more willing to trust people who are like them.” So if dentists can work with prominent social figures, they may have a better chance of getting important information across to their patients. Heaton is trying to better understand these complex social networks, specifically those of families in Boston Public Housing, to develop such interventions. “The power of this approach,” she says, “is that it focuses on prevention rather than cures.”


Boston University. (2017, February 19). Mapping a path to better oral health: Understanding social networks could help deliver better health information to those who need it most. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 24, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/02/170219165121.htm