What Causes Periodontal Disease?

By Kimberly Ripley

Periodontal disease is a disease of the gums; manifesting itself first as an infection. Left untreated, these infections can lead to losing your teeth. The term periodontal is defined as "around the teeth." It starts with an unhealthy build up of plaque. The bacteria that grows within the plaque causes inflammation of the gums. One tooth or many can be plagued by periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is preceded by gingivitis--a form of periodontal disease, which may be caused by poor or no dental care. At the gingivitis stage, the condition is still reversible.


Smoking, as well as the use of chewing tobacco, can cause periodontal disease. A study published in the Journal of Periodontology notes that smokers and people who chew tobacco are four times as likely to develop serious cases of periodontal disease than non-smokers.


Some people are actually genetically predisposed to developing periodontal disease. Many dentists offer a blood test to their patients that will determine if they are at a higher risk than other of developing the disease. Based on the test's results, a dentist can then treat the patient accordingly based on her risk factors.


During puberty, there is an increase of blood circulation in the gums. This causes a heightened sensitivity to any type of gum irritation. Such irritations may lead to infections, and thus result in periodontal disease if not recognized and immediately treated.


There is a condition called pregnancy gingivitis that may occur in some women between their second and third months of pregnancy, and increase in severity until around the eighth month. Women may notice unusual redness and swelling in their gums, that if left untreated may result in infections that can lead to periodontal disease.


According to CBC Health News, a recent study has determined a strong connection between stress and periodontal disease. Cortisol is a hormone released when people become stressed. It has been proven to break down the overall good health of the gums, which can lead to periodontal disease. Cortisol can also suppress the immune system, which promotes bacterial growth. In addition, this same study notes that stress causes many people to engage in unhealthy habits like excessive drinking and smoking, which can also cause periodontal disease.

Medical Conditions

According to a 2006 dental study at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, some medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and blood infections can put patients at a much higher risk for developing periodontal disease. When the body is already compromised by such underlying conditions, there tends to be a higher rate of bacterial growth. Often times this bacteria targets the gums, which leads to cases of periodontal disease.

© Demand Media 2011