Antibiotics and toothache: A social media review

Wendy Thompson, Rachel Emmott, Sophy Barber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Antibiotics are inappropriate for the treatment of toothache, yet many seek them. Social media allows users to express their opinions, share experiences and offer support. This study used social media to investigate the public’s experiences of, and attitudes towards, antibiotics for toothache.

A systematic search of posts on Facebook and Twitter was undertaken. Eligibility criteria were applied to select relevant social media posts for thematic analysis of word content. An inductive descriptive coding system was developed from the data and exemplary quotes were identified to illustrate the themes and subthemes identified.

Key findings Searches identified 174 posts, of which 144 were selected for analysis. Five themes were identified: experience and expectations, self-care and professional treatment, access to dental care, quality of life and coping strategies. The belief that antibiotics are an appropriate treatment for a toothache was widespread. Antibiotic-seeking behaviour was related to access to professional dental care, including avoiding dental appointments due to dental anxiety and the perceived affordability of dentistry. A range of strategies to cope with the severe impact toothache was having on people’s quality of life were identified, from prayer to antibiotics.

Social media is used extensively to seek antibiotics, avoid dental treatment and provide support to people with toothache. A general belief that antibiotics are an appropriate and necessary treatment for toothache exists. This improved understanding about the factors driving antibiotic-seeking behaviour provides new targets for the development of approaches to tackling antibiotic resistance, by reducing unnecessary antibiotic use in dental clinics and beyond.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberriaa024
JournalInternational Journal of Pharmacy Practice
Publication statusPublished - 21 Apr 2021


  • antibiotic
  • toothache
  • social media
  • behavior
  • Patients


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