Diseases & Conditions
Gum disease is
caused by plaque, a sticky, colorless film of bacteria that coats your
teeth. If allowed to harden, the film turns into tartar (calculus).
If plaque and
tartar build up along the gingiva — the part of your gum around the
bases of your teeth — they can irritate your gums and create pockets of
bacteria between your gums and teeth. This can make your gums red,
swollen, tender and more prone to bleeding — a condition called
If plaque and
tartar extend farther, beneath your gumline, you may develop
periodontitis. Your gums gradually withdraw from around your teeth.
Pockets of infection can form in this dark, airless region and may
destroy the tissue and bone supporting your teeth. Untreated,
periodontitis can cause your teeth to loosen and fall out.
Everyone's susceptible to periodontitis, and the most common
contributing factor is a long-term lack of attention to proper oral
hygiene. In addition, other factors can increase your risk:
Bacteria that lead to periodontitis are more harmful to some
people's gums than to others. Those who are susceptible may have a
hereditary predisposition to gum disease.
Many prescription and over-the-counter drugs contain ingredients
that decrease saliva, leaving your mouth dry. Without the cleansing
effect of saliva, plaque and tartar can build up more easily.
Consumption of alcohol also can decrease saliva.
Smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to have a buildup of tartar.
Smoking also slows your gums' ability to heal themselves and replace
tissue destroyed by bacteria. Chewing tobacco and snuff can cause
swollen, bleeding gums.
People with uncontrolled or poorly controlled diabetes are more
susceptible to gum disease. Diabetes may result in a thickening of
your blood vessels, making them less able to carry nutrients to your
gum tissue and remove wastes. This can leave your gums less healthy
and more prone to infection.
Hormone changes during pregnancy may make your gums more susceptible
to the damaging effects of plaque.
Illness or drugs such as cortisone can weaken your immune system.
This makes you prone to infection, which can lead to periodontitis.
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