The COVID-19 lockdown increased online searches for toothaches in Iran, according to a study published on February 15 in BMC Oral Health. Pain is seen as one of the biggest dental complaints around the world.
Researchers analyzed five years of Google Trends data to understand how searches for toothaches during the COVID-19 lockdown in Iran compared to other time periods. Searches for tooth pain spiked in 2020 compared to 2016 to 2019.
"Care-seeking behavior of the Iranians concerning toothache, using Google search engine, shows an increase in 2020 compared with the previous four years," wrote the authors of the report, led by Ahmad Sofi‐Mahmudi, from the National Institute for Medical Research Development in Tehran.
Google Trends looks at specific terms -- in this case, the Persian word for toothache -- to determine the related search volumes. The goal of the study was to determine how the lockdown affected searches for toothache compared to the four years prior.
The report analyzed data from the start of Iran's lockdown on March 14 until three months after on June 14. The authors then compared search volumes to the same period in 2016 to 2019, using 2019 as the control period.
The group found that there were significantly more searches for toothache during the pandemic than in the previous four years. Searches for toothaches peaked during the fourth week of Iran's lockdown before decreasing.
The researchers also investigated whether toothache searches were related to local factors to see if there were correlations based on province. They found some differences depending on which of Iran's 31 provinces an individual was located in.
Provinces with a higher fluoride concentration level and more dentists had fewer searches for toothaches than provinces with a low number of dentists and low fluoride concentration.
"Provinces with higher fluoride concentrations showed lower [search volumes] during the lockdown in 2020. This negative association was observed in 2019 as well," the authors wrote.
Areas with more smokers and greater internet access also had a larger number of searches on toothaches. However, the density of dentists and prevalence of internet users were not associated with search volumes in 2020.
The authors noted a few possible issues with the methodology behind the report. While more than 50% of those in all provinces in Iran have internet, it is possible that actual demographics across the provinces were not fully represented.
Another shortcoming is that because the authors did not have raw data from Google Trends, it is likely that there were some duplications where a person searched for toothaches more than once.
The authors argued that having detailed information about care-seeking behavior could help researchers better understand the need for dental healthcare -- and in turn help countries better plan how to get the population health services during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.
"These findings can implicitly show the importance of different health-planning policies in Iran being mirrored in general populations' online [care seeking behavior], and especially during COVID-19," the authors wrote.