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causes of periodontal disease

Periodontal disease, which is also known as gum disease and periodontitis, is a progressive disease which, if left untreated, may result in tooth loss.  Gum disease begins with the inflammation and irritation of the gingival tissues which surround and support the teeth.  The cause of this inflammation is the toxins found in plaque which cause an ongoing bacterial infection.


The bacterial infection colonizes in the gingival tissue, and deep pockets form between the teeth and the gums.  If treated promptly by a periodontist, the effects of mild inflammation (known as gingivitis) are completely reversible.  However, if the bacterial infection is allowed to progress, periodontal disease begins to destroy the gums and the underlying jawbone, promoting tooth loss.  In some cases, the bacteria from this infection can travel to other areas of the body via the bloodstream.

Common Causes of Gum Disease

Gum disease is caused by a yellow-grayish film called PLAQUE that firmly sticks to your teeth. Try to imagine plaque like a film of glue that sticks on to your teeth. Plaque is composed of bacteria and several proteins and enzymes that come from your saliva. Bacteria are so small they can only be seen under the microscope. However, inside the plaque, bacteria become organized by becoming connected to one another or to other sticky proteins, thereby forming layers upon layers of bacteria. Plaque can harden into CALCULUS if left on your teeth and gums by a process of mineralization or calcification of dental plaque. It is the bacteria within the plaque produce toxins that attack and breaks down your gum tissues and ultimately the bone surrounding your teeth.

oral plaque, dental calculus, bacteria

On the other hand, there are genetic and environmental factors involved in the onset of gum disease. Here are some of the most common causes of gum disease:

  • Poor dental hygiene - Good oral hygiene and a balanced diet at home are essential for preventing dental disease. Regular dental visits for exams, cleanings, and x-rays are also part of prevention. Excellent home care and professional dental care help maintain the natural teeth and the bone that supports them. If bacteria and calculus (tartar) are not removed, they can harm the gums and bone around the teeth and cause gingivitis or periodontitis, which can result in tooth loss.

  • Tobacco use - Studies have shown that smoking and tobacco use are among the most important factors in causing and worsening gum disease. Smokers heal slower and have more calculus (tartar) on their teeth, deeper pockets in their gum tissue, and more bone loss than non-smokers.

  • Genetic predisposition - Even with strict oral hygiene routines, up to 30% of the population may have a strong genetic tendency to get gum disease. These people are six times more likely to have periodontal disease than those without a genetic predisposition. Genetic tests can help identify the risk and early intervention can help keep the mouth healthy.

  • Pregnancy and menopause - During pregnancy, brushing and flossing regularly is very important. Hormonal changes in the body can make the gum tissue more prone to gum disease.

  • Chronic stress and poor diet - Stress weakens the immune system’s ability to fight off disease, which means bacteria can overcome the body’s defenses. Poor diet or malnutrition can also impair the body’s resistance to periodontal infections, as well as harm the health of the gums.

  • Diabetes and underlying medical issues - Many medical conditions can make gum disease more severe or faster, such as respiratory disease, heart disease, arthritis, and osteoporosis. Diabetes affects the body’s use of insulin, which makes it harder to control and treat the bacterial infection in the gums.

  • Grinding teeth - The clenching or grinding of teeth can greatly harm the tissue that supports the teeth. Grinding teeth is often related to a “bad bite” or the misalignment of the teeth. When someone has gum disease, the extra damage to the gum tissue from grinding can speed up the disease.

  • Medications - Many drugs such as oral contraceptive pills, heart medicines, anti-depressants, and steroids can affect the condition of teeth and gums, making them more vulnerable to gum disease. Steroid use causes gum overgrowth, which makes swelling more common and lets bacteria grow more easily in the gum tissue.

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