Crowdsourcing dental research: good idea or dangerous precedent?

One of the most incredible things of the modern age is the internet, and not just because it has made it possible for us to watch cat videos all day, or learn how to cook new recipes really easily. No, the real change that the internet has brought us is the ability to share information, and to share it freely across huge distances, with people that we would otherwise never have met. These internet connections are sometimes brief, and sometimes they can last for decades, with constant transfers of knowledge, data, and understand that can better not only one person’s life, but many others.


This becomes particularly fascinating when you apply this to crowdsourcing. Crowding is the word that has been coined for when a particular goal is decided on, and then individuals from all over the world are encouraged to take part, to propel the project forward, even if they have never heard of, let alone met, the instigator of the entire project. In some cases crowdsourcing is used in order to raise money; some small business do it when they have not been offered a loan by a traditional bank, and so they offer those who have decided to invest in them little quirks. For example, they could receive the products earlier than everyone else, and at a cheaper discount, or they could have their name inscribed somewhere important to the business.

On the other hand, crowdsourcing is also being used in order to gather together important statistical data, often in order to solve a problem or to answer a question that the instigator to help. This use of crowdsourcing in order to carry out academic research is something that has caused a lot of eyebrows to be raised. Is doing this a good idea, a brilliant way to bring intelligent minds together that would normally have never been able to collaborate – or is it a dangerous precedent to set within the academic community, and one that will in turn eventually water down the academic standards that so many feel are already disappearing?

There are always two sides to every story. For some people, crowdsourcing data, especially things like dental records, is an excellent way to be able to understand the general trends that dentists are experiencing, and can start to draw some conclusions from this data that they would otherwise never have been able to reach without the sheer volume of data. This research could then go on to help hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, and change their lives for the better.

A lot of money. A stack of dollars. The company's profits. Hand carry money

However, there is another side to this argument. Others would say that when data is collected from patients it is always collected for a reason – and when you use that data for a completely different reason, you are not able to follow its bias and prejudices. Incorrect conclusions could be made, and then those conclusions could have a negative consequence for future patients. You also have no idea how to verify a person’s credentials when you do it online, and so that professor from England that you think you are talking to could just be a kid from Texas, winding you up!

When it comes down to it, Dr Paige Woods, a biological dentist in San Diego that we asked to comment on this phenomenon, is cautiously optimistic when it comes to crowdsourcing dental data, but she draws the line at dental records; patient confidentiality is a key priority for her, and she would never feel comfortable sharing her patients’ data online, unless she had their explicit permission.

More about Dr. Paige’s San Diego dental clinic at