Gum disease—or periodontal disease, as it is called in the dental profession—is the leading cause of tooth loss in the United States, not tooth decay.
Periodontal disease in its early stages does its work very surreptitiously. Many Americans aren’t even aware of the bacterial battle raging within their mouths. To make matters worse, those who maintain good oral hygiene may still be susceptible to gum disease because of genetics. Studies show that 30 percent of people are genetically predisposed to gum disease.
Whether you are predisposed to gum disease or not, you need to know what you’re dealing with.
The Causes of Gum Disease
As with most health issues, there are several causes that can contribute to the onset of gum disease, either on their own or by teaming up with one another. Genetics has already been mentioned as an underlying factor, but there are environmental factors, as well.
Plaque - The main cause of gum disease is the buildup of plaque. If teeth are not brushed and flossed regularly, plaque can build up. When plaque is not cleaned away sufficiently through brushing and flossing, the bacteria in the plaque remain on your teeth and irritate your gums. Plaque starts off soft, but once it hardens (after 24 hours) it can only be removed by a dentist or hygienist.
Smoking – Recent studies show that smoking may be one of the most significant factors in the development and progression of periodontal disease. Many dentists will instruct their patients who smoke to quit smoking for the healing period after their surgery or procedures because the chemicals in tobacco can impede the healing process. Some dental professionals will refuse to perform extensive treatments (eg: dental implant or bone grafting) on a patient if they refuse to quit smoking because smoking may cause the treatment to fail.
Stress – Stress compromises the body’s ability to fight off infections, which is what periodontal disease is.
Medications – If you notice changes in your gums while taking medications, make sure you tell your dentist to ensure proper treatment and monitoring of your situation.