Common Causes of Gum Disease

man checking his teeth

Gum disease is mainly caused by a build-up of plaque, but a regular routine of oral health maintenance may not be enough to keep you free from risk. Plaque takes the form of an accumulation of tartar and harmful bacteria, producing an infection that eats away at the gums (periodontitis). Fifty per cent of adults in the United States suffer from this problem, and it can spread to other parts of your body. In severe cases, periodontitis will require dental surgery.

The first step in avoiding gum disease is regular brushing and flossing to prevent plaque and tartar building up on the gum line and teeth. Make sure you brush your teeth in the morning and evening, and floss at least once a day. An electric toothbrush is particularly effective because the rotation of the head stimulates the gums to promote blood flow, which helps to keep infection at bay. An antibacterial mouthwash after brushing and flossing will boost your at-home oral health program.

However, a robust oral health regimen may not be sufficient to keep you safe from gum infections. Several factors may put the health of your gums at risk, and some may not be immediately apparent. Common causes of gum disease include a poor diet, aging, smoking and stress.

Poor Diet

What you eat plays a crucial role in oral health. Vegetables, fruit and foods high in vitamin C are good, but sugar and starches will create a breeding ground for microbes. If your diet is lacking in nutrients, your body’s immune system can become compromised, weakening your natural defenses against infection. Obesity may also increase the risk of gum disease.

Certain foods and drinks are especially beneficial in maintaining healthy gums. Dairy products, such as yogurts, milk and cheese, are rich in calcium, which helps to strengthen bones. This mineral also contains the protein casein, which neutralizes acids that can damage gum tissue and tooth enamel.

Crunchy foods like celery, carrots and apples scrape away food particles and plaque that build up along the gum line between your teeth. They are also high in fiber, so they take longer to chew, which produces more saliva. An adequate supply of saliva is necessary to flush out bacteria in the mouth.


Our bodies decline physically as we get older, and your mouth is by no means immune from problems associated with aging, although you may be unaware of gum problems until they have become serious. Research indicates that older people have the highest rates of gum disease. Studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that more than 70 per cent of Americans aged 65 and older have periodontitis.

As you get older, your gums can become weak, resulting in infections like gingivitis. To keep gums in good condition, a strong oral hygiene routine of brushing and flossing becomes even more important as we grow older. Your mouth may also tend to dry out as you get older, particularly if you take certain prescription medications, including treatments for depression, allergies or high blood pressure. An adequate supply of saliva is imperative to wash away bacteria and food particles and keep your gums and tongue healthy. If you suspect your dry mouth is a side effect of medication, ask your doctor for advice.


Studies have shown that smoking may be one of the most significant risk factors in the development and progression of gum disease. Smoking can cause swollen, stained and bleeding gums when toxins in cigarettes attack the soft tissue, making it easier for bacteria to spread. Smoking is also linked with many serious illnesses, such as lung disease, cancer and heart problems, as well as numerous other health issues. If you smoke and want to kick the habit to improve your oral hygiene and overall health, ask our dentist, Dr. George Mitrogogos, about smoking cessation programs.


Stress, which can make it more difficult for the body to fight off infection, causes several health problems including gum disease. Scientists have identified a connection between stress, depression, loneliness and gum disease. The culprit appears to be heightened levels of cortisol, a hormone that increases during times of stress, lowering the body’s immunity. Stressed individuals are also more likely to engage in behavior that puts them at greater risk of periodontal disease. These habits include smoking, poor diet, inferior oral hygiene and putting off dental visits.

Other Common Causes of Gum Disease

Crowded or misaligned teeth and bridges or braces make it harder to clean your teeth properly, which increases the risk of periodontitis. A periodontal specialist can show you the best way to brush and floss, even if your teeth are difficult to get at. An orthodontic dentist, such as Dr. George Mitrogogos, may be required to straighten crooked teeth.

Many women experience pregnancy gingivitis, caused by hormonal changes that alter the body’s response to bacteria. A dental check-up and regular brushing and flossing will help to minimize the problem, and the symptoms should disappear after pregnancy. Puberty and menopause can also temporarily increase the risk of gum disease. Gum disease tends to run in the family, with some people being genetically vulnerable to periodontitis, despite good oral healthcare practices. A DNA test will allow for early intervention in cases like this.

People with certain diseases, including cardiovascular problems, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, are in greater danger of developing periodontal disease. In these cases, a periodontal specialist will be able to offer advice on how to maintain your oral health. Some types of medication, including steroids and cancer treatments, may also increase the risk of periodontitis. While the habit of grinding or clenching your teeth won’t cause gum disease, it can aggravate existing gum infections by exerting excessive pressure on the teeth, which can break down periodontal bone and ligament.

If you feel you may be at particular risk of developing gum infections, further advice on common causes of gum disease is available from Sanford Dental Excellence in Sanford, FL. Feel free to contact us today and speak with our expert team to learn more!

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