It may not be nice to think about, but our mouths are full of bacteria. Without regular dental cleanings and a good oral hygiene routine at home, this bacteria produces plaque and eventually tartar on the teeth, which is what causes gum disease to develop.
How does gum disease start?
The bacteria in your mouth, in combination with mucus and other particles, causes a sticky, colourless plaque to continuously form on your teeth.
With a good oral hygiene routine, including thorough twice daily brushing and flossing and regular visits to the dentist, this plaque is regularly removed from the teeth, and never becomes a problem.
However, if your oral hygiene routine is lacking, the plaque can harden and turn into “tartar”, which then can’t be removed with brushing and flossing.
Over time, this tartar begins to affect the gums, causing them to become inflamed, a condition called gingivitis. This is the beginning stage of gum disease.
How does gum disease develop?
If you have gingivitis, your gums will be red and swollen, and will bleed easily (for instance, during flossing).
Gingivitis is the mildest form of gum disease and is can typically be reversed by simply improving your oral hygiene routine: brushing and flossing with greater frequency and thoroughness, and visiting your dentist more often will usually do the trick.
However, if gum disease progresses, it may progress to periodontitis. In periodontitis, the gums pull away from the teeth to form periodontal pockets, which become infected, as they make it easy for bacteria to develop undisturbed.
Your body’s immune system will fight the bacteria as the plaque and tartar spread and grow beneath the gum line. Together, the bacterial toxins and the body’s natural response to infection will start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold the teeth in place, causing them to loosen.
If left untreated at this point, the teeth may eventually fall out or need to be extracted.
Are there other risk factors for gum disease?
Aside from poor oral hygiene, there are some other factors that may contribute to the development of gum disease.
Smoking: The risk of developing gum disease is (yet another) good reason to quit smoking. Not only is smoking one of the most significant risks associated with gum disease, it can also decrease the effectiveness of treatment.
Hormonal Changes in Girls & Women: Hormonal changes can make the gums more sensitive, thereby making it easier for gum disease to develop.
Diabetes: People with diabetes are in general at a higher risk of developing infections, and that includes gum disease.
Other Illnesses & Treatments: AIDS and cancer, for example, and their treatments, can also have a negative impact on gum health and increase the risk of gum disease.
Medications: Certain medications can reduce the flow of saliva, which serves to wash away food particles and bacteria in the mouth. Low saliva flow can give oral bacteria the opportunity to flourish and this may result in gum disease.
Genetic Susceptibility: Certain people are simply genetically predisposed to develop gum disease.