Periodontal Disease: Causes and Risks

Doctor doing dental treatment to his patient in clinic. Teeth inspection and repair concept

Periodontal disease comes from “peri” meaning around and “odontal” referring to teeth. Periodontal disease infects the structures around your teeth including gum, cementum covering the root, alveolar bone and periodontal ligament.

The early signs of periodontal disease include swollen and bleeding gums. If left untreated, the infection can spread destroying structures that support your teeth and eventually having to get them extracted.

In a study conducted by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1999, it was found that almost half of Americans over 30 had bleeding gums. Many other studies have linked gums disease to other health problems, and researchers are studying the connection between gum disease and other medical problems such as:

  • Heart disease and atherosclerosis — Gum disease not only worsens existing heart disease, but also increases the risk of clogged arteries and heart disease.
  • Stroke — The risk of stroke caused due to blocked arteries is also increased by gum disease
  • Premature births — Pregnant women suffering from gum disease are more likely to prematurely deliver the baby as well as run the risk of the infant being of low birth weight.
  • Respiratory disease —The bacteria that cause gum disease can also worsen existing lung conditions or cause lung infections. Elderly adults especially can be more susceptible to bacteria reaching the lungs and causing sever pneumonia.

Cause of Gum Disease

Gum disease is caused by the bacteria found in dental plaque. Your immune cells release substance that inflame and damage your gums in an effort to remove the bacteria. The gums can become inflamed and swell, and can detach from the tooth. This detachment forms a space or pocket between tooth and gums, causing more bacteria to form rapidly in these pockets.

If not taken care of plaque can harden, become calcified and form calculus. This can destroy the periodontal ligament and alveolar bone supporting the teeth and force you to have your teeth extracted.

Risks of Periodontal Disease

Although poor oral hygiene and neglecting to see your dentist is the major cause of periodontal disease, there are certain factors that can increase your risk of gum disease or the risk of making it worse, such as:

  • Genes: Some people are genetically more likely to get periodontal disease
  • Smoking and tobacco use: Smokers collect more tartar in their teeth and are more likely to develop deeper pockets and lose more bone due to gum disease
  • Misaligned or crooked teeth and braces or bridgework: All factors that make cleaning your teeth more difficult such as misaligned or crooked teeth and braces or bridgework can cause plaque and tartar to form and make you more likely to develop periodontal disease.
  • Stress: Your immune system can be weakened by stress making your more at risk for gum disease
  • Medications: Certain medications can cause dry mouth, causing more plaque to form and making you more at risk for gum disease

If you would like to learn more about periodontal disease, you can visit our website at Want to contact us directly? Call us at 703-822-5583 or email us at

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