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Gum Disease

Primary Causes of Gum Disease

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

The bacterial infection colonized in the gingival tissue and deep pockets form between the teeth and the gums. If treated promptly by a periodontist, the effects of mild inflammation (known as gingivitis) are completely reversible. However, if the bacterial infection is allowed to progress, periodontal disease begins to destroy the gums and the underlying jawbone; promoting tooth loss. In some cases, the bacteria from this infection can travel to other areas of the body via the bloodstream.

Signs & Symptoms

  1. Gums bleeding when you brush your teeth. Even a little bleeding is not normal. If you have a "pink" toothbrush, see your periodontist.
  2. Red, swollen or tender gums.
  3. Detachment of the gums from the teeth.
  4. Pus that appears from the gumline when the gums are pressed.
  5. Teeth that have become loose or have changed position.
  6. Any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite.
  7. Any change in the fit of partial dentures.
  8. Chronic bad breath or bad taste.

Important Risk Factors

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 preventative 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 that include exams, cleanings, and x-rays. A combination of excellent home care and professional dental care will ensure and preserve the natural dentition and supporting bone structures. When bacteria and calculus (tartar) are not removed, the gums and bone around the teeth become affected by bacteria toxins and can cause 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 sensitive, 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 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 utilize 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 usually 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.


Periodontal disease, also know as gum disease, is diagnosed by your dentist, a periodontist, or dental hygienist during a periodontal examination. This type of exam should always be part of your regular dental check-up. If you are an adult and have not received an annual periodontal exam, contact the Implant & Laser Periodontal Surgery Center of El Paso and Las Cruces.

A periodontal probe (small dental instrument) is gently used to measure the sulcus (pocket or space) between the tooth and the gums. The depth of a healthy sulcus measures three millimeters or less and does not bleed. The periodontal probe helps indicate if pockets are deeper than three millimeters. As periodontal disease progresses, the pockets usually get deeper.

There are actually several types of periodontal disease. All are started by a bacterial infection that destroys the gums, bone and ligaments supporting the teeth. Periodontal disease progresses silently, often without pain or overt symptoms that would alert you to its presence. It may develop slowly or quite rapidly.
Your periodontist or hygienist will use pocket depths, amount of bleeding, inflammation, tooth mobility, etc., to make a diagnosis that will fall into a category below:

Gum Disease Diagnosis

Normal, Healthy Gingiva

Healthy gums and bone anchor teeth firmly in place


Gingivitis is the first stage of periodontal disease. Plaque and its toxin by-products irritate the gums, making them tender, inflamed, and likely to bleed.


Plaque hardens into calculus (tartar). As calculus and plaque continue to build up, the gums begin to recede from the teeth. Deeper pockets form between the gums and teeth, which become filled with bacteria and pus. The gums become very irritated, inflamed, and bleed easily. Slight to moderate bone loss may be present.

Advanced Periodontitis

The teeth lose more support as the gums, bone, and periodontal ligament continue to be destroyed. Unless treated, the affected teeth will become very loose and may be lost. Generalized moderate to severe bone loss may be present.

Despite unparalleled advances in dentistry and breakthroughs in research, periodontal disease remains a serious dental health problem. Nine out of ten people are afflicted by it in the course of their lives. Responsible for considerable tooth loss in adults, periodontal disease currently affects about three out of four adults over the age of 40.

Treatment of Gum Diseases

Periodontists specialize in the treatment of gum disease and the placement of dental implants. In many cases, a dental hygienist may have to perform effective cleaning procedures in deep pockets such as scaling and root planning to help halt the progression of the disease and prepare the tissues for surgery. With laser therapy, this step may not be required. Many times this procedure can be performed with a laser, without cutting or stitching. The laser generates a tiny beam of concentrated light energy. This energy sterilized the area, removes diseased tissue and debris found underneath the gum within the pocket. Laser technology reduces bleeding, swelling and the overall healing time.

Surgical Treatment of Heavy Tartar Deposits and Pocket Increase

Periodontal surgery is the procedure used to treat disease or repair defects in the tissues of the teeth or surrounding areas. During moderate to advanced periodontitis cases, the periodontist is able to perform many different procedures depending on the severity of the periodontal disease in your mouth. Some teeth may need pocket reduction therapy while others may benefit from bone grafts with biologic enhancers to promote natural tissue regeneration. In more severe cases, some or all the teeth may need to be removed to improve a patient's overall health.

Treatment of Bone Defect with Guided Tissue Regeneration

In the past, there were limited options once teeth were removed. However, dental implants have revolutionized the way we replace teeth. Today, periodontists are able to place dental implants to support single teeth, bridges, and dentures. These are just a few options. Please take the time to review all of Our Services. You can easily request a consultation online or by phone.

Preventing periodontal disease is critical in preserving the natural dentition and improving your well-being. 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 contact the Implant & Laser Periodontal Surgery Center to set up a consultation in Las Cruces.