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Periodontitis
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Periodontitis

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Causes

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 gingivitis.

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.

Risk factors

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:

  • Heredity. 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.

  • Medications. 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.

  • Tobacco use. 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.

  • Diabetes. 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.

  • Pregnancy. Hormone changes during pregnancy may make your gums more susceptible to the damaging effects of plaque.

  • Decreased immunity. 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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Last Modified : 03/15/08 01:45 AM