What is Gum Disease and Who Gets It?


Gum disease, or periodontal disease, is a bacterial infection that causes a chronic inflammation of the gums and surrounding tissue. It is a major cause of about 70 percent of adult tooth loss, affecting nearly 80 percent of people at some point in their life. 

There are two stages of gum disease: gingivitis is the early stage and periodontitis is a more advanced stage.

What causes gum disease?

Plaque, a sticky, colorless bacteria-filled film that constantly forms on the teeth is the primary cause of gum disease. If plaque isn’t removed each day by brushing and flossing, it hardens into a rough, porous substance called tartar, which can be difficult to remove. The bacteria in plaque produce toxins that irritate the gums and cause inflammation and gingivitis.

These toxins cause the gum tissue to break down and pull away from the teeth, creating pockets that fill with even more plaque, bacteria, and toxins. As the disease progresses, the pockets grow deeper, and the plaque and bacteria move further down the tooth root, destroying supporting bone. The affected teeth may loosen and eventually fall out or require extraction.

Are there other factors that contribute to gum disease?

Genetics is also a factor in gum disease, as are lifestyle choices. A diet low in nutrients can lessen the body’s ability to fight infection and increase a person’s susceptibility to gum disease. Smokers and smokeless tobacco users have more irritation to gum tissues than non-tobacco users, and this increases the susceptibility to gum disease. Stress can also affect the ability to ward off disease and may contribute to an increased incidence of gum disease.

Diseases that interfere with the body’s immune system, such as leukemia and AIDS, may worsen the condition of the gums. In patients with uncontrolled diabetes, where the body is more prone to infection, gum disease can be more severe or harder to control. Pregnant women experience elevated levels of hormones that cause the gums to react differently to the bacteria found in plaque, and in many cases can cause a temporary condition known as “pregnancy gingivitis, ” which, if left untreated, can progress to periodontal disease.

What are the warning signs of gum disease? periodontal-disease-dental-exam

Symptoms of gum disease include:

  • Red, swollen, or tender gums
  • Bleeding gums while brushing or flossing
  • Gums that seem to be pulling away from your teeth
  • Teeth that are loose or are separating from each other
  • Persistent bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth
  • A change in the fit of partial dentures

Why is a dental exam needed?

While you should always check for the warning signs when you are brushing and flossing, be aware that there might not be any discomfort until the disease has reached an advanced state. That’s why it is important to visit your dentist regularly for a dental exam and a thorough cleaning. Your dentist can monitor your oral health and help you identify and prevent problems before they become more severe.

Remember, beautiful teeth are healthy teeth!

Dr. Nishan Halim


Nishan Halim, DMD specializes in adult and pediatric restorative and cosmetic dentistry, as well as preventive dentistry, which is at the heart of this Capitol Hill, Washington DC neighborhood dental center. To find out whether you have early signs of  gum disease,  schedule an appointment


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