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Oral health: What is gum disease?


Sir, despite our best efforts the UK prevalence of chronic periodontitis has remained at 45%.1 I believe that many patients are confused about 'what gum disease is', often using this phrase themselves. They report inconsistency in the information and advice given by different healthcare providers and respond better if they understand the potential seriousness of periodontal infection and the consequent inflammatory reaction.2,3,4

As a specialist in periodontology, ten years ago I started using these simplified sentences in my discussions with patients:

  • Gum disease is an infection that irreversibly destroys the bone that holds your teeth in place

  • When a significant amount of bone has been destroyed your teeth will feel loose or wobbly

  • When insufficient bone remains to support your teeth they will start to drift or fall out.

Consequently, my patients readily appreciate the seriousness of their condition and, almost always, express their gratitude for the unambiguousness of the communication. While the statements have a negative tone, once patients appreciate the seriousness of their condition positive tones can be introduced by discussing the benefits of resolving their condition, for example, avoiding bad breath. There are no studies on topic specific words and their influence on patient understanding and compliance but I am hopeful that this letter might encourage this.


  1. 1

    Adult dental health survey 2009 - summary report and thematic series. 24 March 2011. Available at: (accessed February 2017).

  2. 2

    Bissett S M, Stone K M, Rapley T, Preshaw P M . An exploratory qualitative interview study about collaboration between medicine and dentistry in relation to diabetes management. BMJ Open 2013; 3: 10.1136/bmjopen-2012-002192.

  3. 3

    Davis K . Power words in periodontal communication. RDH Magazine 2011; 31: 74. Available at: (accessed February 2017).

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    Davis K . The art and science of effective communication for non-surgical periodontal treatment. pp 58–68. Continuing Education, October 2007. Available at: (accessed February 2017).

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Ahmed, H. Oral health: What is gum disease?. Br Dent J 222, 323 (2017).

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