Periodontal disease is also known as gum disease. Bleeding gums can be a sign of gum disease, which can range from a mild gum inflammation (gingivitis) to serious disease. Serious gum disease can result in major damage to the soft tissue and bone that support the teeth. In the worst cases, teeth are lost.
Gum disease is a threat to oral health and many people—an estimated 80 percent of American adults—have it. Whether it is stopped or slowed or gets worse depends largely on how well you care for your teeth and gums every day. The effects of gum disease go well beyond your mouth.
What causes periodontal disease? Our mouths are full of bacteria. These bacteria, along with mucus and other particles, constantly form a sticky, colorless film called “plaque.” Brushing and flossing help get rid of plaque. Plaque that is not removed by brushing and flossing can harden and form “tartar,” which brushing does not clean. Only a professional cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist can remove tartar.
What are the risk factors for periodontal disease? Daily brushing and flossing, and regular check-ups, of course, help protect you against periodontal disease, but other risk factors can take effect:
- Smoking: Need another reason to quit smoking? Smoking is one of the most significant risk factors for periodontal disease, and can lower the chances of success of some treatments.
- Hormonal changes: In girls and women, hormonal changes can make gums more sensitive.
- Diabetes: People with diabetes are at higher risk for developing infections, including periodontal disease.
- Stress: Research shows that stress can make it more difficult for our bodies to fight infection.
- Medications: Some drugs, such as antidepressants and some heart medicines, can lessen the flow of saliva, or give you a feeling of a dry mouth. (Saliva has a protective effect on teeth and gums.)
- Illnesses: Some diseases, like cancer or AIDS, and their treatments can also affect the health of gums.
- Genetic susceptibility: Some people are just more prone to severe periodontal disease than others.