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Causes of Periodontal Disease

Periodontal (gum) disease, which is also known as periodontitis, is a cyclicly progressive disease which if left untreated may result in tooth loss.  Gum disease begins with the inflammation and irritation of the gingival tissues which surround and support the teeth.  The cause of this inflammation is the toxins found in plaque bacteria. We can think of this as an ongoing bacterial infection.

The bacterial colonies form in the gingival tissue and deep pockets between the teeth and the gums. The effects of mild inflammation (known as gingivitis) are completely reversible.  However, if the bacterial infection is allowed to progress further into the tissues, it becomes periodontal disease and begins to destroy the gums and the underlying bone; promoting tooth loss.  In some cases, the bacteria from this infection can travel to other areas of the body via the bloodstream.

Common Causes of Gum Disease

There are genetic and environmental factors involved in the onset of gum disease, and in many cases the risk of developing periodontitis can be significantly lowered by taking preventive measures.

Here are some of the most common causes of gum disease:

  • Poor dental hygiene - Preventing dental disease starts at home with good oral hygiene and a balanced diet.  Prevention also includes regular dental visits which include exams, cleanings, and x-rays.  A combination of excellent home care and professional dental care will help preserve the natural dentition and supporting bony structures.  When bacteria and calculus (tartar) are not removed, the gums and bone around the teeth become affected by bacterial toxins causing gingivitis or periodontitis, which can lead to tooth loss.

  • Tobacco use – Research has indicated that smoking and tobacco use is one of the most significant factors in the development and progression of gum disease.  In addition to smokers experiencing a slower recovery and healing rate, smokers are far more likely to suffer from calculus (tartar) build up on teeth, deep pockets in the gingival tissue and significant bone loss.

  • Genetic predisposition – Despite practicing rigorous oral hygiene routines, as much as 30% of the population may have a strong genetic predisposition to gum disease.  These individuals are six times more likely to develop periodontal disease than individuals with no genetic predisposition.  Genetic tests can be used to determine susceptibility and early intervention can be performed to keep the oral cavity healthy.

  • Pregnancy and menopause – During pregnancy, regular brushing and flossing is critical. Hormonal changes experienced by the body can cause the gum tissue to become more reactive to the effects of bacterial toxins, rendering them more susceptible to gum disease.

  • Chronic stress and poor diet – Stress lowers the ability of the immune system to fight off disease, which means bacterial infections may possibly beat the body’s defense system.  Poor diet or malnutrition can also lower the body’s ability to fight periodontal infections, as well as negatively affecting the health of the gums.

  • Diabetes and underlying medical issues – Many medical conditions can intensify or accelerate the onset and progression of gum disease including respiratory disease, heart disease, arthritis and osteoporosis.  Diabetes hinders the body’s ability to use insulin which makes the bacterial infection in the gums more difficult to control and cure.

  • Grinding teeth – The clenching or grinding of the teeth can significantly damage the supporting tissue surrounding the teeth.  Grinding one’s teeth is often associated with a “bad bite” or the misalignment of the teeth.  When an individual is suffering from gum disease, the additional destruction of gingival tissue due to grinding can accelerate the progression of the disease.

  • Medication – Many drugs including oral contraceptive pills, heart medicines, anti-depressants and steroids affect the overall condition of teeth and gums; making them more susceptible to gum disease.  Steroid use promotes gingival overgrowth, which makes swelling more commonplace and allows bacteria to colonize more readily in the gum tissue.

Treatment of Gum Disease

Periodontists specialize in the treatment of gum disease and the placement of dental implants and are often called upon to help us manage your periodontal condition. Working in tandem, the General Dentist and Periodontist can guide your treatrment, monitor your progress and guard against reoccurrance of disease. 

In the case of tooth loss, the periodontist is able to perform tissue grafts to promote natural tissue regeneration, and insert dental implants if a tooth or several teeth are missing.  Where gum recession causes a “toothy” looking smile, the periodontist can recontour the gingival tissue to create an even and aesthetically pleasing appearance.

Preventing periodontal disease is critical in preserving the natural dentition.  Addressing the causes of gum disease and discussing them with your dentist will help prevent the onset, progression, and recurrence of periodontal disease.

If you have any questions or concerns about the causes or treatments pertaining to gum disease, please ask your dentist.

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Testimonials

All service was great! My dental technician did an excellent cleaning and I love their computer program that shows your potential cavities. I was able to see for myself whether I had problems or not.

I felt like they did not over-recommend things and were supportive of preventative methods and giving teeth the chance to bounce back with proper hygeine before jumping to "You need a filling". I had some questions, and they had no problem answering them

Elle B. , Arlington VA

10 Stars if Possible!
After the cleaning Dr. Cotes came in and he was great as well. He gave me a full dental exam and even took time to explain the clicking I get in my jaw. He gave me multiple options for teeth whitening and even told me the prices so there would be no up front surprises depending on which method I went with. He took the time to answer any question a threw at him and without trying to rush me out for the next patient. Not really sure what Megan S. is talking about in her review but I did see her only other review on the site was negative as well...just sayin...

Overall:
I would give Dr. Cotes and his staff 10 stars if it was possible. Everyone knows going to the Dentist is a crappy process. I didn't think it was this possible to have a decent time at the Dentist Office and be taken care of in a timely manor!!!

Dustin S. , Arlington VA

Dr. Cote is just that good. I was referred to Dr. Cote by a friend at work, and I am SO thankful for that reference. The man is a consummate professional, has a friendly staff and has provided me with nothing short of stellar care for the last year. He explained things to me that my lifelong dentist never took the time to do before (like, how I can proactively strengthen the enamel on my teeth). He's got hi-tech gear that indicated areas where future problems might crop up and he's kept an eye on them during every return visit. I have never felt empowered and reassured in a dentist's office, but Dr. Cote is that good.

Dentistry can be a very personal enterprise, and since I had the same dentist since birth, finding a new dentist in DC was a harrowing experience. I actually walked out of three dentists offices (too sketchy for my tastes) before settling going to Dr. Cote. I live in the District, but I'm willing to suffer the indignity of Pentagon City just to have Dr. Cote take care of my teeth.

Evan M. , Washington DC

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