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Gum disease or periodontal disease if left untreated or ignored can become a severe issue. Periodontal disease is seen most commonly as simple gum inflammation but can become a serious disease that results in major damage to the soft tissue and bone that support your teeth. In the worst cases scenarios, teeth are lost and you become more susceptible to other illnesses.

How you care for your teeth will determine if your gum disease is stopped, slowed, or gets worse.

Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease is gum disease. Periodontal (gum) disease is an infection of the gums that starts out as plaque and forms tartar. As tartar builds up, it harbors bacteria that attacks the soft tissue around your gums. Left untreated, gingivitis becomes the first stage of periodontal disease. The second stage is periodontitis, which ultimately destroys the tissue surrounding your teeth and the bone that supports your teeth in place. This disease advances silently, often without pain but is essential to treat in order to have healthy dentition for a lifetime.

What causes gum disease?

Bacteria. Your mouth is full of bacteria. A sticky, colorless plaque forms on your teeth from the bacteria, mucus and other particles in your mouth. As plaque builds up it hardens and forms tartar.  The longer plaque and tartar remain on your teeth, the more harmful they become.


The bacteria first starts to cause inflammation of the gums. This is called gingivitis. The gums become red, swollen and can bleed easily. Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that can usually be reversed with daily brushing and flossing and regular cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist. This form of gum disease does not include any loss of bone and tissue that hold teeth in place.


When gingivitis is not treated, it can advance to periodontitis, (which means “inflammation around the tooth”). Gums begin to pull away from the teeth and form spaces called pockets. These pockets can easily become infected. The body’s natural defense system will fight the bacteria as the plaque spreads and grows below the gum line. Bacterial toxins and the body’s natural response to infection start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place. If not treated, the bones, gums, and tissue that support the teeth are destroyed. The teeth may eventually become loose and have to be removed.

Note, brushing and flossing helps get rid of plaque, however, only a professional cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist can remove tartar. It is highly recommended to have regular cleanings for this cause.

High Risk Factors for Gum Disease

  • Smoking:  Smoking is one of the most significant risk factors associated with the development of gum disease. Additionally, smoking can lower the chances for successful treatment.
  • Hormonal changes in women: These changes can make gums more sensitive and make it easier for gingivitis to develop.
  • Diabetes: People with diabetes are at higher risk for developing infections, including gum disease.
  • Other illnesses: Diseases like cancer or AIDS and their treatments can also negatively affect the health of gums because they create an immune compromised state.
  • Medications: Medications that reduce the flow of saliva make your mouth vulnerable to infection. Since saliva has a protective effect on the mouth, without enough saliva, the mouth is vulnerable to diseases such as gum disease. Some medications can cause abnormal overgrowth of the gum tissue, which can make it difficult to keep teeth and gums clean.
  • Genetic susceptibility: Some people are more prone to severe gum disease than others.  Today there are genetics test that can determine your risk for periodontal disease with a simple saliva sample. 

Symptoms of Gum Disease

  • Bad breath that won’t go away
  • Red or swollen gums
  • Tender or bleeding gums
  • Painful chewing
  • Loose teeth
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Receding gums or longer appearing teeth

Treatments of gum disease include deep cleaning (Scaling and Root Planing), medications and/or referral to a periodontist for more advanced procedures. Some of these advanced procedures involve surgical treatment including flap surgery or bone and tissue grafting.

Can gum disease cause health problems beyond the mouth?

There are numerous studies that suggest periodontal disease is associated with other systemic health conditions. When periodontal disease is present, your entire immune system is weakened and the condition is linked with conditions like stroke, heart disease, diabetes and an increased risk for pre-mature birth for pregnant women.