Educating patients on the perils of periodontitis – Kate Scheer

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  Posted by: Dental Design      4th April 2018

If their hands started to bleed as they washed them, most people would immediately be concerned there was a problem. Yet, many people still believe it is normal for gums to bleed during brushing or flossing. The fact that this could be a sign of periodontitis, the most common chronic inflammatory disease seen in humans[i], doesn’t seem to raise concern. Periodontal disease affects nearly half of adults in the United Kingdom and 60% of those over the age of 65. It remains a major public health problem in causing tooth loss, disability, masticatory dysfunction, and poor nutritional status.[ii] Ironically, periodontal disease is preventable in the vast majority of cases, and there are effective ways to manage it.

There are studies to show that periodontitis is associated with many other health-related issues. Although a cause-and-effect has not yet been proven, research has indicated that periodontal disease increases the risk of clogged arteries and heart disease, as well as other conditions such as stroke and respiratory disease.[iii] People diagnosed with both diabetes and periodontal disease may be more likely to have trouble controlling their blood sugar than diabetics with healthy gums.[iv] Evidently, periodontitis can compromise speech, reduce quality of life, and is an escalating burden to the healthcare economy.ii

We all know that the main cause of periodontal disease is the build up of bacterial plaque, an issue that can be addressed by practising good oral hygiene and attending regular dental appointments. Some people often fail to appreciate their responsibilities in daily brushing and flossing, which, if done correctly, can help remove most of the plaque from their teeth. What patients may not realise is that as plaque builds up over time, it will calcify and turn into calculus (commonly known as tartar). As tartar has a rougher surface than tooth enamel or cementum, even more plaque attaches to it, which further increases the chances of periodontal disease occurring. Smokers are particularly at risk, especially those that have already contracted the disease, as they tend to accumulate more tartar on their teeth – the gums are affected because smoking causes a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream, so the infection does not heal.[v]

There are many things that dental professionals can do to educate patients on the value of maintaining a good oral health regime. The challenge that those in the profession face is ensuring that patients absorb what they are teaching, and implement it at home in their day-to-day routine. It is helpful to give the patient a simple, informational resource that shows them how best to take care of their teeth, and what products they should be using. In fact, many product manufacturers have websites with hand-outs, videos, and other multimedia materials which can be used to educate patients – this is useful material to help explain complicated dental processes and procedures.

Better yet, a really good resource that may be more visually engaging than hand-outs is YouTube. There are hundreds of videos online that can teach patients about how periodontal disease can affect their mouth. Take a look at Additionally, intraoral scans can be used to illustrate the physical changes that have taken place over a period of time in a patient’s mouth – if they can see a difference, they are more likely to pay attention. This presents practitioners with the opportunity to explain how the patient is damaging their teeth and gums, and what could happen if they do not adopt better dental habits.

Models can not only be used as a visual aid to show patients what could happen to their teeth if they neglect to brush regularly; they can also be used by practitioners to demonstrate how patients could improve their brushing technique. There are also a number of different mobile applications that can instruct people on the best way to brush their teeth, and time the process to ensure they are brushing for the appropriate length of time. Practitioners should also recommend the most appropriate products to use, including mouthwash, floss, oral irrigators and interdental brushes.

Everybody has a duty to take care of their teeth, which includes attending regular appointments for professional cleaning. Some patients may need more frequent examinations in order to better manage the effects of periodontal disease, so recalls should be arranged accordingly. Dental professionals may perform scaling and polishing, as well as root planning if too much tartar has built up. Professional debridement techniques involve the use of ultrasonic and hand instruments including periodontal scalers and curettes – which are able to break up the tartar, thereby facilitating its removal. The ultrasonic Tigon and Tigon+, for example, have been developed by W&H as easy-to-use units for dental professionals. Using top quality equipment with features such as temperature-controlled fluid provided by the Tigon+ unit helps prevent the irritation of even the most sensitive teeth and gums, so patients experience more comfortable and relaxing treatment. Ergonomically designed prophy handpieces and scalers such as those produced by W&H also help to improve patient and user comfort, helping to avoid conditions like RSI.

It is important for people to understand that habitual cleaning of their teeth is the only way to ensure that they do not suffer the effects of periodontal disease. It is therefore key that dental professionals take the time to educate them on the steps they can take to maintain optimum health of their teeth and gums.


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[i] National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. (2014) Periodontal (Gum) Disease. Link: [Last accessed: 19.12.17].

[ii] Chapple, I. (2014) Time to take periodontitis seriously. BMJ. 328:2645.

[iii] NHS. (2015) The health risks of gum disease. Link: [Last accessed: 18.12.17].

[iv] (2017) Gum Disease. Link: [Last accessed: 19.12.17].

[v] Oral Health Foundation. (2017) Caring for Teeth: Gum disease. Link: [Last accessed: 19.12.17].

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