Dental care in the UK is available on the NHS but this can be restricted and many people choose to go private with a dentist they prefer. Many private health plans are available to cover the cost of routine and more specialised dental treatment.
Treatment of gum disease (gingivitis or periodontitis) is usually part of the normal care your dentist provides for your teeth, so it may be covered by your NHS treatment, or be part of your private therapy. However, in some cases, some forms of gum disease treatment may not be readily available, even if you have an NHS dentist and you may end up having no choice but to seek private care.
This article on going private for gum disease treatment is by Kathryn Senior, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.
What is gum disease?
Gum disease develops when a build up of plaque bacteria causes inflammation of the gums. Gum disease takes two main forms:
- Gingivitis – a mild form of gum disease that includes inflammation of the gums, which may bleed when brushed or during eating. Left untreated, this can lead to periodontitis.
- Periodontitis – this is the advanced stage of gum disease, in which the inflammation exposes the tooth root and the tissues and bone around the tooth. Left untreated this can cause teeth to loosen and fall out.
There is a third form of gum disease, called acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis, but this is rare in the UK as it only affects people with a weakened immune system or those who are malnourished.
The problem with gum disease is that the early stages are painless and have few symptoms, so most people will not know that they need to seek gum disease treatment until the disease has become more advanced.
What treatment is available?
The main gum disease treatment for gingivitis is a thorough cleaning and de-scaling by your dentist or dental hygienist. Your dentist may also recommend the use of an antiseptic mouthwash such as chlorhexidine to prevent further build up of plaque. This level of gum disease treatment is widely available from both NHS and private dentists, and will usually be performed routinely as part of your six month check up.
Gum disease treatment for the more advanced periodontitis, however, is rather more complex, and may not be as widely available on the NHS.
To begin with, you will require far more intensive de-scaling, which may take several sessions and include the use of local anaesthetics. Following this, your gum disease treatment may require surgery on your gums, peeling them back to allow access to plaque that has invaded the base of the tooth.
Why go private for the treatment?
As we have just seen, you may have no choice about going private for more involved gum disease treatment as it simply may not be available to you. There are several well-documented cases on the internet of patients who have battled for years to receive free gum disease treatment with little success.
One reason for this is that the surgery is a specialist practice performed by a periodontist, and not every practice has this facility. However, even those NHS practices that can perform this gum disease treatment may be unwilling to do so for financial reasons. Nigel Carter, Chief Executive of the British Dental Foundation recently went on record to say that “"Plenty of NHS dentists can perform this gum disease treatment, technically; the trouble is they can't afford to. If gum problems take a dentist three hours to treat, the current fee structure means they might get paid around £40, which roughly equates to just over half an hour of work; so over two hours, or up to five-sixths of the job are on the house. Altruism has its limits."
In other words, NHS dentists, squeezed by the new fee structure introduced in recent years, are simply unwilling to undertake such complex work for the minimum fee the government allows. If you require more advanced gum disease treatment, going private may be your only option.
To avoid paying for private gum disease treatment, you could try your local dental hospital. They may agree to treat you on the NHS, or as part of their training programme. However, places are strictly limited and you may have to wait a considerable time to be seen – this wait will only make your condition worse and therefore more complicated to treat, making you less likely to receive your gum disease treatment for free.
Avoiding the need for the treatment
The best course of action to avoid needing gum disease treatment is to take the best possible care of your teeth. Regular brushing and flossing will prevent the build up of plaque that causes gum disease in the first place, and regular visits to your hygienist will help control any plaque that you have missed.
Changing your toothbrush for an oscillating electric brush will cut plaque even further, as will the regular use of antiseptic mouthwash. If you smoke and you stop, this will also improve the health of your teeth.
It is well worth taking care of your teeth, as once you have gingivitis or periodontitis, it can never be fully cured, and you will need to take extra care of your teeth from then on.