Samantha Womack’s beaming smile has always been her trademark. ‘Friends would constantly compliment me and tell me what a great smile I had and how lucky I was,’ says the 45-year-old former EastEnders star and mother- of-two. ‘But inside I’d be thinking, “If only they knew.” ’
In reality, the actress, who starred as Ronnie Mitchell in the BBC soap, has spent the past 15 years plagued by severe, incurable gum disease – despite being fastidious about her dental hygiene.
The situation came to a head during the summer when, after yet another severe infection left her on antibiotics, she was warned that losing some teeth was a very real possibility.
Samantha Womack with dentist Suzanne Roelofs, who gave her a holistic treatment called Bone One Session Treatment, or BOST
In desperation, Samantha turned to a holistic treatment called Bone One Session Treatment, or BOST – and the gamble paid off.
The four-hour procedure, performed under local anaesthetic, involves stretching the gums away from the teeth with special instruments and ‘deep-cleaning’ underneath.
It spares patients from a widely used but more aggressive technique where the gums are cut and teeth are often extracted. Advocates also claim that BOST is a more long-lasting solution.
Although the holistic procedure has been used for more than 15 years – with promising results – only one medical study has investigated its effectiveness.
Published in the journal L’Implantologie, the 2004 study reported ‘clinically satisfying’ results in more than 1,500 patients over a 15-year period.
However, when The Mail on Sunday requested further evidence of long-term effectiveness, nothing was provided.
But dentist Suzanne Roelofs has witnessed the benefits first-hand. ‘I have worked on this treatment for seven years and seen the proof of its success in many patients when nothing else has worked for them,’ she says.
‘The gums are cleaned to the level of the bone, which doesn’t compare to a treatment you might get at a hygienist.
The four-hour procedure, performed under local anaesthetic, involves stretching the gums away from the teeth with special instruments and ‘deep-cleaning’ underneath
‘People with gum disease are usually advised to undergo tooth extraction and implants, which often fail due to peri-implantitis, whereby the area around the implant also becomes inflamed.’
Gum disease is remarkably common in Britain. It is estimated that three-quarters of adults over the age of 35 have some form of the condition, with often irreversible consequences. It is caused by plaque, a film of bacteria which forms on the surface of the teeth.
The disease begins as gingivitis, causing sore and bleeding gums due to inflammation. If caught early through proper cleaning and flossing, the condition can be reversed. But if it is left untreated, it can quickly develop into periodontitis, which Samantha had.
This is a much more serious condition where the gums pull away from the teeth and space forms between the gum and the tooth. In a healthy mouth, the space between the gum tissue and its attachment to the tooth should be between 1mm and 3mm deep.
However, if space grows any bigger than 3mm due to build-up of sticky bacteria, food particles can become trapped in them, allowing bacteria to flourish further – and, in turn, triggering a worsening infection.
At this point the increased space is referred to as a pocket and if it grows, bacteria can burrow deep into the gum, attacking tissue and bone and loosening the tooth.
In that situation, tooth extraction or cutting the gums to release the trapped bacteria is the only option, as Samantha was warned.
One of the problems with gum disease is that symptoms may not appear until an advanced stage. Healthy gums should be light pink and firm, and do not bleed.
Over the years, Samantha suffered frequent sore, swollen and bleeding gums and was constantly on antibiotics. ‘I would have nightmares about losing all my teeth,’ says the star, who is married to actor Mark Womack.
And regardless of how meticulous they are with their dental hygiene, some people, such as Samantha, are still highly likely to suffer due to genetics.
‘People are frightened to talk about gum disease because they think that having it is somehow dirty,’ she says. ‘But it can happen to anyone, irrespective of how often you brush your teeth.’
In addition to poor dental hygiene, triggers include smoking, a high-sugar diet, diabetes, some medications and a weakened immune system.
Gum disease is also increasingly being linked to a number of more serious conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and dementia.
As Samantha had family members who also suffered from the condition, her dental hygiene has always been ‘exceptional’, including regular check-ups.
‘But the prognosis dentists were giving me was very depressing – extractions or splitting the gums,’ she explains.
While researching holistic treatments, she came across BOST. Aimed at chronic sufferers, the treatment claims to eliminate periodontal disease at its source.
It tackles the area under the gums and near the bone supporting the teeth by aerating it and flushing out the bacteria that lurk there through intensive cleaning using metal instruments.
Bacteria are killed after being exposed to oxygen. And over time, this helps to close the pockets and reattach the gums to the teeth.
As BOST does not involve cutting or stitching, it is less painful and also cheaper than implants. ‘We use a gentle gum-stretching technique to reach the root surfaces,’ explains Suzanne, who performs the procedure at the Hale Clinic in London.
She says: ‘Infected tissue is spongier and elastic, so it’s possible to stretch and push it back manually without cutting the gums, allowing access under the gum to cleanse the infected tooth.
‘Every square millimetre of every tooth and root is cleaned as deep as any pocket reaches.’
A key part of BOST is identifying the exact bacteria causing the infection, so a simple bacterial DNA test – where paper is inserted into the pockets around the teeth to get a sample – is performed. Armed with the information, the dentist can then decide whether antibiotics are necessary.
At the same time, the pockets are measured to see how deep-rooted the infection is.
Of Samantha’s 30 teeth (she had had two wisdom teeth removed), 27 were infected with varying degrees of bacteria.
It was also discovered that the pockets in her mouth were up to 9mm deep, rather than the healthy 1mm to 3mm.
Ten days later, she underwent the procedure. Due to the depth of her pockets and volume of bacteria, she was prescribed antibiotics. However, this is necessary only in severe cases.
‘I didn’t feel any pain, just a little discomfort in certain areas, and there was quite a lot of bleeding and rinsing,’ she says.
The success of BOST also depends on maintaining a strict aftercare routine using a special instrument called a Perio-aid. The small plastic device is fitted with a set of disposable wooded heads that slot into the end.
Held like a small pencil, the Perio-aid can be painlessly pushed into the cleansed pockets to continually clean underneath the gums and get oxygen into them, killing any damaging bacteria.
‘I also advise patients about their lifestyle and diet,’ says Suzanne. ‘Stress overload and nutritional deficiencies can make you more prone to periodontal disease.’
Having followed a treatment plan, Samantha is reaping the rewards. ‘My pockets now measure about 3mm to 4mm and my gums have reattached to the teeth, which is fantastic,’ says the actress, who has also appeared in the Sky One comedy-drama Mount Pleasant.
‘Now I just have to keep up the maintenance with my Perio-aid and see the hygienist every four months. My mouth feels fresh and my gums aren’t bleeding. It is a lovely feeling.’
lBOST costs between £2,500 and £5,000. bostclinic.com