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Allergy-fighting toothpaste? Yet another single-source Fox News story that reads like sponsored content

Rating

2 Star

Categories

Allergy sufferers find relief in immunotherapy toothpaste

Our Review Summary

This story touts a new product, a toothpaste laced with extracts of allergens, as an alternative to existing allergy treatments using injections or drops.  It discusses a tiny clinical trial comparing the toothpaste to drops in a minuscule number of volunteers.  The only “results” it offers are the claims of the inventor and anecdotes from one participant.  It omits the fact that the main researcher has a financial stake in the company supporting the trial. Like a long line of previous stories we’ve reviewed from Fox News, this story is supposed to be a piece of journalism but it reads like a paid advertisement.

 

Why This Matters

Millions of people suffer miserably from allergies to pollen, pet danders and a myriad of other allergens.  If a treatment for these irritations was a simple as brushing one’s teeth daily, the public would rejoice.  But there is nothing in this story that supports such hopes, except comments from two people, one of which stands to get a financial windfall should the claims be proven.  Such stories are unfair to the public in that they are premature at best, flat-out wrong at the worst. They also lead people to invest money and false hope in treatments that could be a waste of time.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Satisfactory

The story earns a Satisfactory rating because it says that the toothpaste mentioned in the story costs $400 every three months (or $1,600 per year), and that it isn’t covered by health insurance.  But we would have liked it better had the writer offered comparative costs for a year’s worth of the current allergy treatment of choice.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

There is no quantification of benefits in this story, period.  It states that both groups in the trial “reported a significant decrease in their symptoms,” but offered no numbers to back that up. Nor do we know exactly what “symptoms” they are referring to that supposedly decreased. Where these the itchy, watery eyes and sneezing or where they more subtle symptoms? The only other “results” are basically a testimonial from one participant, which has little or no value to readers.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

There is no mention of potential harms or the safety of the immunotherapy toothpaste in this story.  Does the product carry the risk of systemic reactions that one might see with allergy shots? Does the toothpaste make you drowsy like some antihistamines? There is no statement that the product is FDA-approved, which might help readers gauge its merits.  All we are given is the praise of one of the trial’s participants and a comment from the product’s inventor.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

Again, this Fox News story offers nothing for readers to weigh except one person’s anecdotal experience.  Moreover, the scant description of the clinical trial it mentions points out that only a dozen people took part in the study and only half of those used the toothpaste, hardly enough to warrant the story’s claims that the new toothpaste offers “the same benefits as an allergy shot or drops.”

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

This story is built upon the major discomfort that allergy sufferers face and fails to offer any substantive research data backing up its claims.  It talks about “millions” of sufferers, but doesn’t quantify the total with any precision. It also presents a heart-tugging anecdote of a woman faced with the prospect of abandoning her two cats because of insufferable symptoms. We think the story goes too far both in its portrayal of the condition and the benefits of the potential toothpaste remedy.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

There are no independent sources used in this story, just comments from one study participant and the principal investigator.  There is no mention of conflicts although a quick web search reveals that the quoted researcher is also “co-founder and chief medical officer” of the company funding the research.  It also shows that he has an “equity ownership” in the company, a clear vested interest and potential conflict.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The story mentions that normal treatments incorporate shots or drops of allergen extracts as a way of sensitizing patients.It also mentions medications.

We’ll award a minimal Satisfactory on that basis, but we’d note that it’s not clear how long the participants used the toothpaste before they started to see a decrease in their symptoms. Usually allergy medication works anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours to a few days. We saw no comparison on this factor between the toothpaste and regular allergy medication.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

The story mentions the product price tag, the fact that it’s not covered by insurance, and includes a link to the company website that can link readers to a prescribing doctor.

While the promotional aspect of this information in a news story is somewhat troubling, it does satisfy the criterion.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

The idea that a toothpaste containing material that might alleviate allergy symptoms seems novel enough to warrant a news story. But what specifically are the advantages of the toothpaste over other approaches such as shots or drops? This story isn’t explicit about what’s new or better. A CBS story published back in 2014, by contrast, quoted a researcher on the toothpaste’s specific novelty appeal. Talking about the drops, he said, “People forget to do it and also it’s difficult for small children to keep a liquid under their tongue for two minutes.”

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Satisfactory

There is no indication that this story relied on a news release.  However, the researcher’s institution did produce a news release in 2014 that in some respects mirrors the Fox News story, relying on the anecdotes of one patient and comments from the inventor.

Total Score: 4 of 10 Satisfactory

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