What Causes Gum Disease?

June 16, 2024

Gum disease is a common dental condition, and unfortunately, it can cause infections, gum recession, and tooth loss. Read on to learn about the causes of gum disease and what you can do to reduce your risks

Periodontal disease, often called gum disease, is a common condition affecting your gums and surrounding tissues. Gum disease can be broken down into several stages, including gingivitis (the earliest stage), mild periodontitis, moderate periodontitis, and advanced periodontitis. In its earliest stages, gum disease causes bleeding and tender gums, while the most severe cases can lead to permanent tooth loss. 

Unfortunately, gum disease is common. Nearly half of American adults over age 30 have some form of gum disease. While poor oral hygiene is the most well-known cause of gum disease, several other factors contribute to its development.  

At Mowry Dental in Fremont, California, our team of experienced dentists can help you identify the underlying cause of your gum disease and provide personalized treatment options. By addressing the root cause of the condition and taking steps to improve your oral hygiene habits, we can help you prevent further damage to your gums and teeth. 

In this blog post, we will explore the various causes of gum disease and what you can do to prevent it. 

Poor oral hygiene

When plaque, a sticky biofilm of bacteria, builds up on your teeth and gums, it can cause inflammation and infection of the gums. Your gum tissue is delicate and starts to pull away from the plaque. Over time, this can lead to the development of gum disease, and in fact, poor oral hygiene is the leading cause of gum disease. 

Proper brushing and flossing can help remove plaque and prevent the buildup of harmful bacteria. Always use a soft-bristled brush and hold it at a 45-degree angle to brush along your gums.  

Smoking and tobacco use

Smoking and other forms of tobacco use can also contribute to the development of gum disease. Nicotine and other chemicals in tobacco products can damage the gums and reduce blood flow to the tissues. This makes it harder for the gums to fight off infection and heal from the damage caused by bacteria. 

Any tobacco use (including chewing tobacco) and vaping can also increase your risk of developing gum disease. The nicotine and the e-cigarette aerosol both contribute to gum inflammation. 


Researchers have identified variants in 65 genes associated with an increased risk of gum disease. This means that if someone in your family has had gum disease, you may also be more likely to develop it.  

However, genetic factors alone are insufficient to cause gum disease, and other factors, such as poor oral hygiene and smoking, are still important contributors. 

Hormonal changes

Hormonal shifts during pregnancy can make the gums more sensitive and prone to inflammation. This can lead to a condition called pregnancy gingivitis, which can cause  bleeding and gum tenderness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly 75% of pregnant women experience these symptoms during their pregnancies.  

Certain medications

Drugs such as antihistamines, antidepressants, and blood pressure medications can cause dry mouth, making it easier for plaque to build up on teeth and gums.  

In addition, some medications can cause an overgrowth of gum tissue, making it harder to clean teeth and gums effectively. Medicines that can cause swelling and overgrowth include phenytoin, cyclosporine, and certain blood pressure medications. 

Note: Never change or alter your medication dosage. If you’re concerned about the side effects, speak with your prescribing provider. 

Medical Conditions

Certain underlying health conditions can also increase the risk of gum disease. Diabetes, for example, can make it harder for the body to fight off infections, including those that affect the gums. Other conditions that can increase the risk of gum disease include HIV/AIDS, leukemia, and Crohn’s disease. 

Get help for gum disease

By maintaining good oral hygiene habits and addressing any risk factors, you can help prevent the development of gum disease and keep your gums and teeth healthy. However, because there are many risk factors for gum disease (many of which are out of your control), it’s still possible to experience signs of gum disease even if you have a good oral care routine. 

Spot the signs of gum disease? Our team here at Mowry Dental can get you started with a proper diagnosis and the right treatment. Depending on the stage of your gum disease, we may recommend a deep clean (scaling and root planing), antibiotics to fight any infection, and medicated mouthwashes. 

Call us at 510-794-7900 to get started. You can also contact us online today to schedule your appointment and take the first step toward a healthier smile!

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