Periodontal disease — also called periodontitis or gum disease — is a serious condition that can lead to tissue, bone and tooth loss if left untreated.
It’s estimated that nearly 65 million Americans, or about half of all adults over 30, have periodontal disease. Because it usually causes no symptoms in its early stages, significant damage may have already occurred by the time it is diagnosed.
But what causes periodontal disease? Let’s take a look at how gum disease progresses and some of the risk factors that may increase your odds of getting it.
How Periodontitis Develops
Gum disease begins when mouth bacteria interact with the starches and sugars from your food.
According to the Mayo Clinic, periodontal disease develops in the following stages:
- Mouth bacteria form a sticky film known as plaque on the surface of your teeth, near the gum line. Plaque rebuilds quickly when it’s removed. That’s why you have to brush and floss every day.
- Left unchecked, plaque hardens to form tartar, which cannot be removed by regular brushing and flossing. Tartar is filled with harmful bacteria and does more damage the longer it remains on your teeth. Your dentist can remove tartar during your professional cleaning, and regular oral hygiene at home can limit tartar buildup between dental visits.
- Gingivitis is also known as early gum disease. It occurs when plaque and tartar buildup cause inflammation of the gum around the base of your teeth. It may be reversible with professional treatment and good home care.
- Periodontitis, or advanced periodontal disease, is caused by ongoing inflammation. Gum pockets may develop between the gums and teeth, which quickly fill with even more harmful bacteria, plaque and tartar. Severe gum disease can lead to tissue, bone and tooth loss.
Risk Factors for Periodontal Disease
Although periodontal disease can happen to anyone, there are several factors that may put you at an increased risk.
Some, like oral hygiene, tobacco use and dietary choices, are things you can control. Others, such as your age or genetic profile, may be out of your hands.
- Poor oral hygiene. Plaque and tartar can accumulate quickly. That’s why it’s so important to brush twice a day, floss once a day and visit your dentist twice a year for a professional cleaning.
- Smoking and tobacco use. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, tobacco usage is one of the most significant risk factors in developing gum disease. So that’s just one more reason to stop lighting up.
- Age. Periodontal disease can occur at any age, but it appears more frequently in older adults. The Centers for Disease Control reports that 70% of Americans 65 and older have it.
- Poor nutrition. Eating plenty of fruits and veggies and limiting your sugar intake may lower your risk of gum disease. The Mayo Clinic also points out that obesity and Vitamin C deficiency may make you more susceptible.
- Some medications. Oral contraceptives and antidepressants, along with some heart medications, epilepsy treatments and cancer therapy drugs, may carry an increased risk of periodontal disease. Let your dentist know if you are taking any of these medications.
- Some health conditions. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis carry an increased risk of gum disease. Leukemia, HIV/AIDS and many cancer treatments hurt your body’s ability to fight off infections, and individuals with substance abuse may also be at risk.
- Pregnancy and menopause. Hormonal changes triggered by these life events may increase the risk of gum disease in some women.
- Genetics. Some healthy people are more susceptible to gum disease even with regular oral hygiene and dental cleanings. Early detection and treatment can help.
- Stress. Prolonged stress or anxiety makes it harder for the body to fight infections, including those caused by mouth bacteria. This may lead to gum inflammation and periodontal disease.
Are you concerned about your risk for periodontal disease?
Contact Excel Dental to set up an appointment with Drs. Davis or Matthews. We’ll recommend a plan to help you maintain healthy gums — so you can continue to Smile Healthy!