Gum disease, a bacterial infection that affects the gums and bones supporting your teeth, is one of the most common oral health problems. If left untreated, can lead to tooth decay and even loss. However, the good news is that it is also fairly preventable, treatable, and even reversible if caught and addressed early.
The most common cause of gum disease is plaque caused by bacteria buildup around the teeth and gums.
Plaque, a film of bacteria that builds up on your teeth over time, can create inflammation at the gum line and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Gingivitis can be prevented or even reversed by meticulous oral care, but can progress to full periodontitis or advanced periodontitis. In the advanced stages, your gums, teeth, and the bone supporting them can suffer and deteriorate. You may even lose teeth.
Brushing, flossing, and rinsing regularly removes most plaque and is the best defense against gum disease. Regular dental exams can help remove the rest, especially the stubborn buildup in hard-to-reach places (like below the gum line).
Other contributing factors include:
- Poor oral health – The number one defense against gum disease is vigilant oral health. Poor brushing and flossing routines and missing dental exams is the quickest way to develop gingivitis-causing plaque buildup.
- Smoking/tobacco – Smoking interferes with the normal function of gum tissue cells, making it harder for gum tissue to repair itself. Because smokers tend to collect more tartar, gum disease is typically even harder to treat and can lead to advanced periodontitis.
- Hormonal changes – Fluctuating hormones, caused by pregnancy, puberty, menopause, and menstruation, can make gums more sensitive and lead to gum disease.
- Medicines – Some medications have side effects of gum tissue enlargement or lessening the flow of saliva. The former is more likely to trap plaque, making it harder to remove and prevent. Saliva helps protect teeth and gums by washing plaque and bacteria away, so dry mouth can not only lead to periodontitis and tooth decay.
- Poor nutrition – Everyone knows that a diet rich in sugar leads to poor oral health, but gum disease can also creep up when you aren’t getting enough vitamins from fruits and vegetables.
- Medical conditions – Inflammatory diseases and illnesses that affect the immune system have a large impact on oral health. Those suffering from diabetes, HIV, AIDS, cancer, or even rheumatoid arthritis can be at risk.
- Crooked/misaligned teeth – When teeth overlap, it’s hard to remove all the plaque and bacteria that build up in the small pockets created by the misalignment, paving the way for gum disease.
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