The focal point of Gum Health Day 2021, which took place on 12 May, was a live Perio Talks session on the EFP’s Instagram page (@perioeurope) to discuss activities carried out around the world. It was hosted by the awareness day’s co-ordinator Henrik Dommisch, who explained the purpose and evolution of Gum Health Day and discussed the initiative with representatives of participating national societies of periodontology.
Gum Health Day 2021 focused on a simple message (gum diseases are preventable) and a clear call to action (visit your dentist), communicated via a series of four short animations that use humour to highlight causes or symptoms of gum disease.
Bruno De Carvalho described how members of the Belgian Society of Periodontology and hygienist students visited a shopping mall and a public hospital in Liège to provide prevention information to people along with interproximal brushes and mouthwashes. In previous years, the society also carried out physical periodontal screening – using the Dutch Periodontal Screening Index (DSPI) – but this was not possible this year because of the pandemic.
Nonetheless, the society used the EFP’s “assess your gum health” questionnaire so that people could find out if they needed to visit their dentist. Via a QR code on Gum Health Day flyers, people could go directly to the test on the EFP website.
Dr De Carvalho said that the Belgian society had tried to spread the Gum Health Day message more widely than in the past. “We realised we were only reaching dentists and periodontists, as these are the people using our social media. So, we asked our members to take the content and repost it on their own private profiles and to approach the public. It is really important for our members to share this information.”
Several of the participants in the Perio Talks session noted the challenge they are up against because many people think that bleeding gums are normal rather than a sign of disease and that the term “periodontitis” is not widely understood.
“Gums are not supposed to bleed, just like our hands are not supposed to bleed – but the public doesn’t have this information and feels that it’s common to bleed from our gums,” said João Miguel Gomes, from the Portuguese Society of Periodontology and Implantology. “Our feeling is that the Gum Health Day initiative is really important and a big step to increase public literacy about this issue.”
Ricardo Faria Almeida (the society’s past present and current EFP delegate) was interviewed on Portugal’s main morning television news programme, but, noted Gomes, the host had problems saying the word ‘periodontite’ [periodontology], as if he didn’t know the word.”
He added said that the society had been much more active on social media this year compared to previous years and invited colleagues to make short videos aimed at the public on topics such as diagnosis of periodontal disease and the signs to look out for.
Impact of pandemic
Another topic discussed was the impact of Covid-19 on periodontal patients. “We had to postpone appointments and we had to interrupt some treatment, and we know that even if this is only brief it means that the person is more prone to lose a tooth in the longer term,” said Gomes. “And people in maintenance programmes couldn’t visit dentists or hygienists and we know that this has increased disease recurrence in previously treated patients.”
Dommisch noted that there was a problem in that some patients were still not visiting professionals to get their treatment, in some cases related to fear of Covid. Furthermore, hospitalized patients were not able to receive visitors because of hygiene or high-incidence regulations.
Representing the Italian perio society (SIdP), Silvia Masiero drew attention to the psychological impact of the pandemic: “This year we focused the day on periodontal symptoms with attention to systemic ones, but we have also to place attention on the behavioural symptoms of patients who are languishing or who are depressed because can help them not only in terms of gums but also with the symptoms of mental conditions that can interfere with periodontal health.”
She emphasised that focusing on prevention was “even more important during a pandemic” and praised the Gum Health Day initiative as “a moment every year when the European perio societies reach the biggest number of people to give a message about the importance of preventing periodontitis.”
The Italian society used the EFP animations (“quite funny but also very emotional”) and was active on its websites and social media to deliver the message to the general population: “This year was different from other years because we focussed our communications on social media,” she noted.
Nada Naaman described how this was the Lebanese perio society’s third Gum Health Day and how it used Instagram to share the EFP animations. “We did the editing in Arabic so we can reach the community in Lebanon and in other Arabic-speaking countries,” she commented. The society also performed some community activities including distributing oral-hygiene kits and explaining the importance of preventing gum disease.
“We have a high percentage of gum disease here and it is very important to work on prevention,” she said, adding that next year the society hopes to do something in a hospital setting as it did in 2019, but which has not been possible since because of the pandemic.
The Perio Talks participants agreed that this exchange of experiences had been useful. As Bruno De Carvalho put it: “We can share ideas and grab some ideas from what other societies are doing. It is really important to bring the national societies together and share ideas.”
Henrik Dommisch agreed: “I think we should really share and exchange ideas between different EFP-affiliated societies to develop new and exciting activities at the national level in the future, and perhaps even organize internationally synchronised activities to increase the visibility of Gum Health Day. Especially for perio, our main goal is to prevent the disease and to reach people who are not diseased, which is very difficult.”
Alex García of the Mexican Assocation of Periodontology, an EFP international associate member, was unable to particpate in the live Perio Talks sessions because of technical problems. He said later, "
It was a shame not to be able to participate in the live session due to technical failures. I am glad to send you my comments: "Gum Health Day is an excellent initiative by the EFP, in which a specific day is assigned to inform society that the words 'periodontics', 'periodontitis', and 'periodontist' exist and what their meaning is. In Mexico, more than 80 percent of patients do not know the aforementioned words. It is an excellent opportunity to find out how gum problems are treated and who treats them. Today, social networks play an important role, since they facilitate the dissemination of this information, in order to reach more people."
Note: Comments have been edited for concision and clarity.