What Causes Gum Disease?

Gum disease, also called periodontal disease, is an infection of the bone and tissues that support your teeth. Symptoms of gum disease can range from mild, like sore gums and bad breath, to severe, including loosened teeth and tooth loss. In fact, periodontal disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in the United States.

Unfortunately, this infection in your mouth can also have far-reaching effects throughout your body. Some studies have linked gum disease to heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and stroke.

How prevalent is gum disease?

Gum disease affects about half of the US adult population. A Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) survey found that 47.2% of adults over 30 have a mild, moderate, or severe form of gum disease and that number increases to 70% for adults over 65.

More men than women get periodontal disease, and people of African or Latin descent have higher rates of the disease than other ethnicities.

Causes of gum disease

Plaque buildup is the main culprit of gum disease. Plaque is a colorless, sticky substance that builds up on our teeth as a result of bacteria in our mouths. Brushing and regular flossing can eliminate most plaque.

Plaque that sticks around forms tartar, a hard substance that can’t be brushed away — tartar requires a professional dental cleaning. Practicing good oral hygiene habits, such as brushing twice a day, flossing daily, and visiting Soft Touch Dentistry for a dental exam and professional cleaning twice a year, can go a long way in preventing gum disease and other serious oral health issues.

Other causes of periodontal disease include:


People with diabetes who don’t manage their blood sugar are more prone to developing gum disease. About 22% of people with diabetes also have gum disease. People with gum disease who have diabetes are also more likely to get severe periodontal disease.

Hormonal changes

Fluctuations in hormones during puberty, menstruation, and pregnancy can lead to changes in gum sensitivity and make women more prone to gum disease. Hormone surges lead to increased blood flow to your gums, making them more sensitive and prone to irritation.  

Medications that reduce saliva production

Reduced saliva production, a side effect of many over-the-counter and prescription medications can lead to dry mouth. These medications include antihistamines, blood pressure medications, painkillers, and antidepressants. Without an adequate amount of saliva to wash away food and plaque, tooth decay and gum disease can set in.

Poor diet

A diet that’s nutrient-deficient can lead to a weakened immune system, making it harder for the body to fight off infections like gum disease. A poor diet can also make your gums inflamed and sensitive.


If you have a family history of gum disease, studies show that you’re more likely to develop it, regardless of your oral hygiene habits.


Stress can lead to a host of health issues, such as heart disease, hypertension, stroke, and depression. You can add gum disease to that list. Chronic stress can lower your immune system, making it more difficult for your body to fight infection.

If you suspect you have gum disease or you’ve noticed early signs of it, visit Dr. Andrew Owyoung at Soft Touch Dentistry, in Sacramento, California, for treatment and guidance on how to keep it from getting worse. Gum disease is preventable and, in the early stages, reversible. Advanced gum disease is more challenging to treat.

Dr. Owyoung Andrew Owyoung, DDS, has been providing comprehensive family dental care for 29 years to the Sacramento area. Widely considered a top dentist in Sacramento, the staff at Soft Touch Dentistry are equipped with the knowledge, experience, and equipment to deliver an unparalleled dental experience.

You Might Also Enjoy...

5 Non-Cosmetic Reasons to Consider Veneers

The purpose of veneers is not just to make you "smile big" — though it’s great to finally be able to. Find out how they can offer a “low-hassle” alternative to more complex, sometimes uncomfortable procedures.

Causes and Tips for Coping With Sensitive Teeth

Do you feel a sharp pain in your teeth when you eat, drink, or brush? You probably have sensitive teeth, which can have a variety of causes. Read more to learn what leads to sensitive teeth and how you can cope.