Nicola West, professor of periodontology at the University of Bristol, started a three-year term as secretary general of the EFP in March this year. In an extensive interview, she explains her priorities and talks about the federation’s international strategy, its projects with partners, the new classification of periodontal diseases, and the need to focus on communications to spread the message of “Periodontal health for a better life.”
How are you settling into the role of secretary general?
Although it is early days, I am settling in very well thus far to the role of secretary general. I am, of course, hugely honoured to be asked to fulfil this role and I am particularly grateful to the members of the EFP council for the confidence that they have shown in me by offering me the position.
You were “shadowing” Iain Chapple [secretary general, 2016-19] for much of the last year of his term of office to prepare for the handover. How did this help you and what have you learnt from your predecessor?
I consider myself very fortunate to have succeeded Iain, who has exceptional insight and experience and who, in my opinion, performed the role superbly. His efforts have ensured that the EFP is in good shape, something that I aim to continue. Shadowing Iain prior to my appointment enabled me to witness and benefit first-hand from his organisational abilities so that, when I started, I was aware of the commitment in terms of the time and communication required to fulfil my duties. This has allowed me to step into the role more assuredly. I particularly appreciated being able to renew old acquaintances and forge new ones before the hard work began!
You became secretary general just as the EFP welcomed the new international associate members. How important is this process of internationalisation?
It is worth appreciating that the aims of the EFP are not only to promote periodontology as a subject but also to improve the periodontal health of people as a whole (we are, after all, dealing with the sixth most common disease in humankind). The identity and influence of the EFP is not diluted by accepting international associate members but is strengthened by their presence. Furthermore, I am certain that the continued internationalisation of the EFP will benefit individual member societies and I look forward to their future contribution. This will enable us to implement our vision as widely as possible: “Periodontal health for a better life.”
What do you see as your priorities and the priorities of the EFP over the next three years?
My vision is to see that the profile and importance of periodontology – particularly in conjunction with its influence on health in general – continues to be recognised in an increasing way by the profession, patients, and the public.
The EFP is an international federation that represents the summit of expertise in the field of periodontology and implantology, and I am very keen and proud to support the research and educational efforts that culminate in the European and World Workshops, whose results are published regularly. It is also my vision that, as leaders of our field, we encourage and prepare the younger generation of periodontists and implantologists to take on the mantle when the time comes for us to step aside.
Key to our long-term success is to improve our communications with the profession, patients, and the press. To this end, I am delighted to say we have just appointed a new head of communications and we have engaged a new web provider, following the retirement of the team who have so successfully run our website, Canterbury Web Services.
In addition, we need to consider sustainability. In this regard, the EFP is keen to lead by example, particularly with respect to our carbon footprint and the use of technology to minimise travel.
Our congresses increasingly attract younger attendees, who represent the future of our federation and we seek to align the EFP to their needs and well-being.
Periodontology is still not recognised as a speciality at European Union level. What needs to be done to advance the cause and how likely is it that this will be achieved in the next three years? What are the obstacles?
There are two issues regarding these questions. The first is the title of specialist. I believe that there are benefits from having well-organised and accredited training programmes that deliver qualified specialists as an outcome. I will do everything I can to promote this approach – indeed, guidelines already exist and have been published (in the European Journal of Dental Education in 2010). However, not all member countries are geared up – or indeed able – to deliver such a template and this individuality should be respected.
The second consideration is that some individual dentists, for whatever reason, may seek less formal training and accreditation that provides them with enhanced abilities without the formal recognition of being a specialist. I would still advocate my support for such individuals as they represent a wholesale improvement in the understanding of treating periodontal diseases and the delivery of care. We are extremely thankful to Nairn Wilson (Emeritus Professor of Dentistry at King’s College, London) who champions this area for us in the European forum.
As the EFP becomes bigger, what issues does this create in terms of administration and co-ordination? What is the EFP doing to cope with this?
The EFP is a non-profit-making organisation that has been in existence now for more than 25 years, having been founded in 1991. It has evolved to become a very well-structured organisation founded upon co-operation. I have no concerns that relate to the enlargement of the EFP by accommodating the international associate members, but I will be reviewing protocols and committee structures to ensure the continued smooth running of the organisation. Communication and co-ordination are the key and I will work closely with Cândice Gasperin, our newly appointed head of communications, to ensure ongoing growth and success.
Strengths and challenges
What would you say are the EFP’s greatest strengths and what are the areas where it is most challenged and needs to do better?
I would say that the greatest strength of the EFP lies in the fact that it is representative of its member societies. The EFP has fostered and encouraged a greater understanding of periodontology and implantology as a subject. The genuine hard work of many people throughout the organisation has generated huge credibility and respect worldwide. This is one of the reasons that the international associate members wish to affiliate with the EFP.
I am continually looking at ways to raise and improve the profile of the EFP. I seek more regular communication with the international press to help disseminate our messages to the public and patients alike. We need to enlighten people that periodontal diseases are largely preventable and, in doing this, quality of life improves.
What can be done to continue to improve the way the EFP and its members societies communicate with each other?
One of my main roles is to facilitate communication at all levels within the EFP. It is my responsibility to liaise with the president, the executive committee, and all standing committees. I am charged with establishing and maintaining formal links with sister organisations such as the American Academy of Periodontology. I am also responsible for developing close contacts with all member societies. Our new head of communications will be an integral part of our future strategy improving communication between the EFP and its member societies.
New classification and projects
One of the big projects this year is the toolkit on the new classification. How important is this project and how useful will it be to clinicians? It is not uncommon to hear people say that the new classification is fine in theory and for university research but too complicated in practice for ordinary clinicians. So how can this view be challenged? Is there a risk that the new classification will not be fully and properly implemented among all periodontists across Europe?
Thank you for asking this excellent question, as it allows me to address the concerns of dental practitioners regarding the new classification. The 2017 classification was designed to address the fact that periodontology is considered to be the gateway component of patient care and, as such, it is essential that their periodontal status is assessed and recorded.
While the classification may seem complex at first, it actually clarifies and streamlines the periodontal assessment by ensuring that the appropriate data are collected, logically guiding the practitioner. More importantly and for the first time we have developed a classification that recognises periodontal health as well as periodontal disease entities.
I am sure that with continued reassurance and encouragement from our national member organisations and their experienced cadre of periodontists, we will be able to oversee the implementation of the 2017 classification to the benefit of patients.
The other big recent initiative has been the projects with EFP partners (Oral Health & Pregnancy, Perio & Caries, Perio & Diabetes, and with Perio & Cardio in the pipeline). What are the benefits to the EFP and to patients, medics, and others of this work? What have we learnt from the projects we have done so far?
These initiatives are an excellent example of the benefits of collaboration. It is too easy to develop knowledge and understanding in splendid isolation. These collaborative efforts underline the importance of the fact that our improvement in the understanding and treatment of periodontal disease has a positive healthcare impact on the population as a whole. There are excellent documents for oral-healthcare professionals, the public, researchers, and other healthcare professionals to refer to and use to help improve oral health.
The next two editions of the EFP’s Perio Workshop are about creating guidelines (this year focusing on periodontal disease, next year on peri-implantitis). How important will this be?
Convening the Perio Workshops is a fantastic opportunity to bring together the best minds in the field of periodontology and implantology. This, together with the considerable preparation prior to each event, allows the EFP to produce a consensus that represents the pinnacle of understanding, expertise, and best knowledge, to the benefit of our membership and patients.
Collectively, the publication of the proceedings from the Perio Workshops has, and will continue to have, a considerable impact in our field. They therefore represent one of the main tenets of our organisation which I, as secretary general, wholeheartedly encourage and support.
Periodontology seems to remain very male dominated. For example, the only women at the Perio & Cardio Workshop in Madrid last February were there in administration and communications roles, not as participants in the workshop itself. Now, with you and with Monique Danser as treasurer, we have women in two of the three senior positions at the EFP. How important is it to have women in these positions at the EFP?
While I would like to see more females involved in senior positions at the EFP, I strongly believe that all our considerations should be based on merit, as this will ensure the continued confidence that dental professionals and patients have in our organisation. I would, however, like to ensure that females have the opportunity to contribute. I hope that, by my own example and by creating fair opportunity, this may be reflected in a more balanced representation.