IFDHDental hygienist Helen Minnery reports back from this year’s International Symposium on Dental Hygiene in Basel, Switzerland.

The 20th International Symposium of Dental Hygiene was themed ‘New challenges’, an appropriate theme for me as I approach my inauguration as president of the BSDHT. The incumbent holder of the office, Michaela ONeill, accompanied me. Together we represented the UK, and I was honoured to carry the Union Jack at the illustrious opening ceremony in which no fewer than 30 countries were represented.

Maria Perno Goldie chaired the session and IFDH president Joanne Gurenlian declared the symposium open. The keynote speaker, Dr Hans Rudolph Herren, discussed sustainability – a constant challenge to us all. He defined sustainability as ‘a requirement of our generation to manage the resource base, such that the average quality of life that we ensure ourselves, can potentially be shared by all future generations and that development is sustainable if it involves a non-decreasing quality of life’.

He discussed what was wrong with our food system, the amount of overproduction and waste, particularly from the UK and the USA, and the impact and issues that arise from this. It was an interesting and thought-provoking opening to the symposium.

Something for everyone

With 1,600 delegates registered, we were all kept busy with a three-day itinerary, which included more than 60 oral or case presentations, two seminars, more than 80 poster presentations, alongside a trade exhibition with more than 60 exhibitors. There were also workshops from six key dental companies, who chose the event to showcase new products or concepts.

Various topics were covered each day, covering a multitude of areas including new challenges in patient motivation, nutrition and caries as key factors in oral health and gerodontology. Within each theme there were three to four presentations on related topics in the main lecture hall with parallel plenary sessions running concurrently.

There was something for everyone and the diverse range of sessions certainly presented a challenge, as you needed to plan your day with military precision to ensure you attended those sessions with topics you found most interesting. Luckily for me, there were very few clashes, and I managed most of my choices.

The 80 poster presentations covered topics such as the impact of anxiety on TMJ disorders in high school students, factors influencing the self-esteem of a dental hygienist and the correlation between diabetes melitus and periodontitis to name but a few.

I was slightly disappointed that out of the 80 poster presentations there was no representation from the UK. However, on a brighter note, there were three UK speakers (two within the main programme) – who were all dental hygienists: Claire McCarthy, Mike Wheeler and Juliette Reeves.

Ticking time bombs

Claire McCarthy presented her findings of a survey amongst BSDHT members and a web-based poll. The aim of the study was to assess the training, current knowledge and practices of UK dental hygienists with regard to dental implant examination, treatment and maintenance.

The General Dental Council (GDC) has reported that complaints have doubled in the past four years. Litigation cases arising from dental implants accounted for 28.8%, periodontal disease a staggering 44.7% and a combination of both accounted for 5.5%.

Claire’s findings suggest a lack of structured didactic and practical teaching on the care of dental implants within the dental hygiene and therapy curricula in the UK. She advised, based on her research, the introduction of care protocols for undergraduates in order that they enter the workplace prepared for ‘real practice’.

Mike Wheeler’s lecture explored improving the oral health of older people in residential care. He explained the importance of oral care to the elderly, and the impact that changing population demographics is likely to have on this sector of the community, before offering advice on how carers might be trained in order to meet this challenge.

Both Mike and Claire’s lectures were interesting and informative. There was a correlation between the two as they both highlighted the ticking time bomb that is an increasingly elderly population. These patients are having more complex treatments to maintain and preserve their dentition, such as dental implants. Therefore, there is the need for ongoing maintenance and for carers to be included as part of a team approach.

Unfortunately, I missed Juliette Reeves’ presentation, where she spoke about the use of probiotics in dental disease.

Showcasing products

The exhibition hall was full to the brim with more than 60 exhibitors, mainly from European countries. Many of the UK stalwarts were there, generously supporting the association.

Delegates were able to try the latest innovation in electric toothbrushes, aptly named the ‘Genius’ brush, at the Oral-B stand. The brush’s functionality certainly befits its title; this innovative product is the first of its kind to employ Bluetooth technology to benefit oral hygiene. 

As we see every day in practice, the majority of patients do not clean their mouths as directed, and even if they are vigilant in their efforts, certain areas are likely to receive insufficient attention. Now, when paired with the Oral-B app 4.1, the position-detection technology in the Oral-B Genius tracks brush position, and shows the user how to brush all areas in the mouth equally and evenly. Essentially, they can ‘see’ where they’re brushing. The toothbrush has a pressure sensor, too, should they get carried away and brush too vigorously! For me, it felt a little strange looking at my mobile phone stuck to the bathroom wall while brushing my teeth, but apparently 75% of the population take their mobile phones into the bathroom.

Try, try and try again

The closing ceremony took place on the Saturday, with the new board of the IFDH being presented to delegates, including the new president Robyn Watson from New Zealand and Michaela ONeil from the UK as the new secretary.

The closing speaker, Dr Christian Wenk, spoke about making the impossible possible. Christian studied music and medicine simultaneously. He was also a Swiss champion in duathlon, however he was tragically involved in a cycling accident in 2000 and has been a paraplegic ever since. His message was to try, try and try again and that it is sometimes the smaller obstacles in life that are the hardest to overcome.

Christian finished his medical studies and went on to work as a senior physician at the Swiss Paraplegic Center. He still rides and plays the piano; a true inspiration to us all.

It was an exhausting three days, but a fantastic opportunity for networking at an international level. It gave delegates an opportunity for new contacts and friendships across the globe.

We exchanged information about the latest sciences and research in oral health and experienced new products, concepts and technologies. It was obvious from conversations with delegates that we all face the same issues and challenges, wherever in the world we practise.

One thing that struck me was that there is so much unrest throughout the world, but 1,600 delegates could come together from more than 30 countries to help improve the oral and general health of the population worldwide.

It is also a fantastic opportunity to hear international speakers that we would normally not be able to access. The Swiss organising committee put together a great three-day event that ran very smoothly. I would certainly recommend anyone to try and attend the next ISDH 2019 in Korea and I hope that I am lucky enough to be able to go.

However, if that’s a little too far, ISDH 2021 is set to take place in Dublin!