The basics of searching for information on the internet

Whether looking for information to share with patients or searching for the most up-to-date clinical information, several effective tools are readily available that make the internet a valuable resource. There are a wide variety of options to source online scientific literature, but you may find what you need by using one or more of these options.

Many databases contain information of interest to dentists. One is Medline, compiled by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. It is the largest and most widely available free health sciences and medicine database in North America. Another is the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, which represents one of several databases in the Cochrane Library. The Cochrane Collaboration consists of a large group of volunteers, who review the effects of health care interventions and prepare the reviews. These and other databases are searchable in many different ways, including PubMed, Google Scholar and TRIP. These sites do not require institutional access and are freely available.


There can be many steps involved in a comprehensive literature search. However, for those who are just getting started, a basic PubMed search serves as a good introduction to the wide variety of information that is available.

Once on the PubMed website, doing a basic search is similar to using a simple search engine. Enter your keywords and start your search. The results will match the keywords and be displayed in order of relevance, if those words appear in the article record.

This kind of search frequently produces a very large number of citations and many irrelevant results. For example, a basic search using the key word “aids” produces information related to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, plus information on hearing aids and mobility aids.

The PubMed user also has an opportunity to further limit the results by journal, author, date of publication and other parameters by clicking on the “Advanced” tab or using the filters in the left hand column.

The results of a search will usually produce the abstract of an article, plus links to full text articles, if they are freely available. 

In fact, if full text articles are desired, it may be helpful to use PubMed Central. It acts as a PubMed filter and limits access to full text articles.

A PubMed search can also be done using the MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) feature. This is the Medline indexing system. It is available in a drop-down menu next to the search bar. It requires more steps, but it produces more specific and contextual results. It is analogous to looking up a term in the index of a textbook. Once your topic of interest is found, MeSH permits an even more detailed and selective search.

For those who wish to use more advanced search strategies, you can view the online PubMed tutorial, available on the PubMed website.

Also you can find information on how to do searches on the University of Toronto Dentistry library website

In addition, the UofT dentistry library staff are available to answer questions about search techniques and other available resources. 

Google Scholar and TRIP 

A search conducted through Google Scholar or TRIP (Turning Research Into Practice) provides abstracts and some full text articles, plus access to so-called grey literature.

Grey literature is a term used in library and information science. This category of information includes material not published commercially or not widely accessible. It may nonetheless be an important source of information for researchers. Examples of grey literature include conference proceedings, excerpts from textbooks, theses, association newsletters and information for patients, technical reports from government agencies or scientific research groups, working papers from research groups or committees, white papers, and preprints.

TRIP also provides images, videos and educational material. Many of the resources produced will be the same as those provided by PubMed, but the search results will be more generalized and voluminous.