Periodontal disease is believed by some to be the fundamental dental disease in the UK. Dr Philip Greene, current president of the British Society of Periodontology (BSP), believes this, for two reasons. Primarily because of the important role the gums play in protecting the alveolar bone, but also because of the emerging evidence of relationships between periodontitis and our general health. Those who suffer from untreated periodontal diseases risk exacerbating diabetes, a higher incidence of cardiovascular diseases or even, perhaps, premature childbirth.
The BSP exists to spread awareness and lower the scary figures (at least one in 10 suffer from some form of gum disease), as Philip Greene says: ‘The BSP promotes awareness of periodontology among the public, the profession, the policy makers, the dental industry, and anyone who would like to know about periodontal health.’
From early on in his career, Philip was aware of the importance of periodontal health; he says: ‘Gums are the gateway to the bone that supports the teeth. I always thought this was the main issue for dentists, because the biggest problem for gum disease is that it’s mostly symptomless. Once the bone has been nibbled away, painlessly and insidiously, and teeth start to get loose, it’s too late to act because you’ve already lost the bone.’
As president, after many years as an active member of the BSP, it would be easy for Philip to sit back and observe, quietly and steadily keeping the Society turning simply by ‘holding the wheel’, but Philip is quick to emphasise the importance of enthusiasm and vision, particularly when it comes to spreading perio health awareness: ‘I like to get things done and I’m not afraid to take on responsibility. I was always willing to get involved from when I first started, helping in every way I could. In the last year we’ve been much more outward facing.’
This much is certainly true. Since Philip’s presidency, the BSP have had regular stands at dental exhibitions, including The Dentistry Show in Birmingham, as well as lecture programmes and articles featured in papers and web-based medical journals, such as Dentinal Tubules. Philip explains: ‘My objective is to get the BSP much more visible in the profession, and hopefully to influence policy makers involved in the next NHS dental contract. That would be a major step.’
Most recently, the BSP have launched a series of CPD roadshows to keep dentists up to date with the latest concepts in periodontology, all at varying levels of education.
‘We bring leading exponents of surgical techniques from all over the world to provide hands-on training using specially designed models or animal jaws,' says Philip. 'This gives postgraduate and specialist students a chance to handle the instruments and practice their techniques. We also provide research grants for postgraduates and various prizes that undergraduates can compete for.’
The goal of educating the public is also high on the list of the BSP’s priorities. A gum disease awareness campaign is currently being developed in the build-up to the EuroPerio conference in June 2015, which Philip describes as an event to ‘gorge yourself on periodontal knowledge’. It will join together all European periodontal societies over a period of three days for a veritable feast of new perio research and scientific advances.
The new NHS Dental contract
One of the toughest problems that dentists face is budget restriction, particularly when they’re working in the NHS system. Perio treatment – especially in patients who have a well-established disease – can be time-consuming and difficult. ‘The new contract that is being developed at the moment will feature periodontics as a key part, so we are hoping that dentists will be paid, at least partly, on a capitation basis. It’s been hard for dentists to provide good periodontal treatment when working on a restricted budget up until now.’
Philip’s answer? ‘Join the BSP! The more members we have the stronger our political voice.’
So what does the Society hope to achieve in the future? Philip says: ‘Our aim is: periodontal health for a better life. Ideally, we want to help make sure dentists know how to treat periodontal diseases effectively, and make sure the public know how to recognise the early signs and prevent it.
‘And, like every society, we would like to grow our membership and provide the highest quality of education so that as things change, which they will, we can keep everybody up to date’.
Making a difference
What is Philip most proud of after over 40 years in the dental profession? He says: ‘When a patient comes back to me after a course of treatment, and we’ve converted their inflamed, uncomfortable mouth into stable, healthy teeth and can eat, speak and smile with comfort again – for me, that’s what dentistry’s all about. It’s all about the people.
‘It is very rewarding to think that I have inspired so many dental nurses who I’ve worked with, to go on and become dental hygienists and therapists, practitioners in their own right. I’m very proud of that.’
Traversing through public unawareness, difficult policies and expanding the education of periodontology for dental professionals may be a hard struggle at times, but Philip’s motto is: ‘Nothing’s too much trouble. Do whatever it takes. Persistence is key.’
Under such positive lead, there is only one way the BSP can go from here: upwards.
For more information on the BSP's work, visit their website: www.bsperio.org.uk.