This was a 3-minute ad – not a piece of journalism. So much good can be done with 3 minutes of network TV time.
But this story failed to:
It even featured the two co-anchors sucking lollipops at the very end. Wow.
Dr. Shi and colleagues have done some interesting work in the area of preventive dentistry targeting the underlying pathophysiology (bacterial colonization and acid production). The work in the area of preventive dentistry – and not a focus on this lollipop product – would have been a more valuable use of the 3 minutes.
The story didn’t mention costs. But the ABC website linked to the proprietary "Dr. John’s Lollipops" website where costs were listed:
• 20-Lollipop Pack (one dose) $10.00
• 2.5 lb. Bulk Bag (Approx. 125 Pieces) $50.00
As a comparison, a tube of toothpaste with fluoride costs about $2. Fluoride toothpaste has been shown to reduce dental caries in children.
The story failed to discuss any EVIDENCE for benefit.
The story said the product "doesn’t need FDA approval because it’s all-natural and its active ingredient is licorice, which the FDA says is completely safe." That’s a tremendous leap of faith with no evidence to back it up. Further, contrary to the story, licorice (its main ingredient is glycyrrhizic acid) is in fact pharmacologically active. In addition to its ability to alter the effects of drugs (digoxin is one example), licorice can induce a hypermineralocorticoid-like effect in humans.
The story was completely devoid of any evidence about how well these lollipops work – if at all. Yet it said the approach could "revolutionize" oral health and that it "could be a cure for cavities." All we got was anecdotal evidence in a petri dish.
The story didn’t exaggerate tooth decay but it also didn’t give very much or good context. It said $85 m was spent on oral health last year and that 79 percent of kids still have a cavity by age 17. (No source given for either statement.)
Only the one researcher/inventor was interviewed. No dentist was interviewed. The anchor even asked the reporter at the end if the American Dental Associaiton had "weighed in on all this." The answer was no. But it’s not clear if that meant that ABC even asked the ADA.
Obviously there are many options for prevention and treatment of tooth decay. None was mentioned in the story.
There was lots of talk about "calls coming in" – from "around the globe," even from pet food makers. But there was no explicit mention on the air of availability. The story gleefuly proclaimed that the product "doesn’t need FDA approval" – as if that’s always a good thing. Meantime, the ABC website linked to the proprietary "Dr. John’s Lollipops" website, where some extravagant claims were made.
The story did all it could to establish the novelty of the product – saying it would revolutionize oral health care and might be a cure for cavities. Yet, without evidence, we can’t be sure if there’s anything novel here beyond a new lollipop.
We can’t be sure if the story relied soley or largely on a news release. We do know that only the one researcher/inventor was interviewed.