What Causes Gum Disease?

Feb 21, 2023
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What Causes Gum Disease?

What causes gum disease? The short answer is bacteria. But the reality of gum disease is more complex. Learning how gum disease develops and progresses highlights the importance of good oral hygiene, as you substantially lower your risk with daily brushing and flossing.

Our skilled team at Dentistry With a Smile, Inc., in Livingston, New Jersey, focuses on preventive dental care that keeps your gums in prime condition. But if gum disease develops, you can also rely on our expertise and advanced treatments to heal your gums so you avoid tooth loss.

How gum disease develops

Gum disease, also called periodontal disease, begins when the bacteria that normally live in your mouth combine with saliva and sugars. All the carbohydrates you consume contain sugar, including bread, pasta, beans, sweets, and sweetened sodas.

The bacteria-containing mixture forms a colorless film (plaque) that sticks to your teeth. The problem with plaque is that it hardens within a few days if it’s not removed by brushing and flossing.

Hardened plaque, called tartar, holds the bacteria against your teeth. As they take up residence on your teeth, bacteria digest sugars, producing acids that erode and weaken your tooth enamel. Then the bacteria can invade your gums, causing the first of two stages of gum disease:

Stage 1: Gingivitis

Gingivitis occurs when bacteria cause gum inflammation and infection. Though gingivitis seldom causes pain, the gum may feel tender and bleeds when you brush your teeth. You may also develop symptoms like swollen, puffy, or red gums.

Getting treatment as soon as you notice symptoms prevents gingivitis from progressing to stage two.

Stage 2: Periodontitis

Periodontitis (advanced gum disease) develops as the infection becomes more severe and goes deeper into your gums. Ongoing inflammation damages your gums and the structures supporting your teeth, even eroding the bone.

Without treatment, periodontitis causes your gums to separate from the tooth, creating an open pocket that fosters bacterial growth and a deeper infection.

Between gum separation and damaged bones, the affected tooth becomes loose and can fall out.

Other causes of gum disease

Plaque-induced gum disease is the most common cause by far. But you can also end up with gum inflammation (gingivitis) as a result of:

Hormone changes

The hormone changes that occur during pregnancy increase a woman’s risk for gingivitis. High estrogen widens blood vessels, resulting in an exaggerated inflammatory response to a small amount of plaque. 

Fluctuating estrogen levels for any reason influence how your gums react to plaque. For example, estrogen rises during puberty, putting both genders at risk of developing a condition called puberty gingivitis.

Drug-induced gingivitis

Gum inflammation is a possible side effect of some medications. However, these medications treat serious health problems, like epilepsy, high blood pressure, and blood clots. If you suspect your gum disease is associated with a medication, don’t stop taking it without consulting your physician.

Vitamin C deficiency

Vitamin C deficiencies are rare in the United States, but can occur if you don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. Without enough vitamin C, your body can’t produce the collagen needed to maintain healthy gums. As a result, your gums become inflamed.

Preventing gum disease

You can prevent gum disease by brushing and flossing at least twice daily and having a dental checkup every six months.

Diligent tooth brushing is the only way to get rid of plaque before it hardens. Flossing helps remove plaque that your brush can’t reach.

Even if you follow good dental hygiene, it’s easy for some plaque to remain on your teeth and turn into tartar. Brushing can’t get rid of tartar, which is why six-month dental checkups are so important.

During your six-month checkup, we perform scaling and root planing to scrape away all signs of tartar above and below the gum line. This deep cleaning is the key to preventing advanced gum disease.

If it’s time for your preventive checkup or you have questions about gum disease, call Dentistry With a Smile, Inc, or book an appointment online today.