The numbers are downright stunning.
If you’re an American over the age of 30, look at the person next to you. Odds are one of the two of you has some degree of periodontitis. That’s right, a recent study from the CDC pegs the number at 64.7 million American adults with perio, meaning the disease is present in just shy of 50% of the adult population.
With more and more data showing the links between perio and other chronic inflammatory conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, the dental profession is certainly well informed about both the gravity of the disease as well as how to diagnose and care for patients who fall on the wrong side of the CDC’s new data. However, as a layperson I can definitely say that perio is not a common word among the general population.
Sure the term is nothing new for me. I’ve been a journalist covering the dental industry for a number of years and perio was among the first things I started studying up on when dentistry became my beat. But as someone lucky enough to enjoy solid oral health, it took a professional interest in dentistry for me to become aware of perio and gain any understanding of how serious it can be to a person’s oral and overall health.
I’m pretty sure the general public is largely in the same situation. The advertisements for mainstream hygiene products have educated the populace on avoiding Cavity Creeps, the scourge of Gingivitis and most commonly the importance of clearing up bad breath and keeping teeth sparklingly white. The more serious implications of poor oral hygiene and the possible problems caused by deteriorating oral health are not part of the message reaching the general public.
Now the data from this CDC study is not only painting an alarming picture of the state of the nation’s gums, it’s also providing a perfect jumping off point for raising the public’s awareness of what perio is, what it can lead to and how to avoid it. This should be a cornerstone of a public awareness campaign to inform the general public about perio, and study organizers and CDC officials are already starting to beat the drums for just such a program. View the full version of the CDC Perio Infographic.
A public awareness campaign hopefully helps bring more patients into dental offices for the needed care they currently do not seek out, but even before such a campaign is begin, the dental community can continue to raise awareness among the existing patient populations. Periodontal screenings have been a part of the regular check-ups I get when visiting my dentist, but they don’t always come with an explanation of what the hygienist is doing and what she’s checking for. With the disease so widespread it makes sense for clinicians to talk with their patients in detail about why they’re checking for perio and what patients can be doing between appointments to help keep themselves from becoming a number in the wrong column of the follow up to this CDC study.