Understanding Gum Disease: Causes, Symptoms and Prevention

Gum disease (or periodontal disease) is a chronic inflammatory condition affecting the gums and supporting structures of teeth. Its causes include bacteria in plaque and the immune response from our bodies against them. There are two stages to gum disease:

Understanding Gum Disease: Causes, Symptoms and Prevention

Gingivitis is the initial stage of gum disease and is characterized by inflammation of the gums. Plaque buildup along the gum line leads to bacterial growth that inflames gums into reddening, swelling, and bleeding - albeit at this point, any kind of damage can often be reversed with good oral hygiene and professional dental cleanings.

Periodontitis: If gingivitis goes untreated, it can progress to periodontitis. Here, an infection spreads under the gum line causing receding gums that form pockets where plaque and bacteria collect, leading to further destruction of supporting structures of teeth such as bones. Without treatment, this could result in tooth mobility, shifting, or even eventual loss.

Understanding gum disease is of vital importance as it impacts both oral health and overall wellness. We will cover its causes, symptoms, risk factors, and treatments below.

Causes of Gum Disease

At its core, gum disease is caused by the buildup of dental plaque that hardens over time into tartar. Plaque is composed of bacteria, food debris, and saliva and forms on teeth regularly, leading to gum inflammation.

When left unremoved through proper brushing and flossing, plaque hardens into tartar that cannot be effectively removed through regular home care methods, necessitating professional dental cleaning to eliminate it. Other factors contributing to gum disease may include:

Poor Oral Hygiene

Inadequate brushing (at least twice a day for two minutes) and flossing allow plaque to accumulate, increasing the risk of gum disease.

Smoking and Tobacco Use

Smoking and tobacco use further compromises blood flow to gums and immunity systems and inhibits healing, making smokers more prone to gum disease than non-smokers.

Hormonal Fluctuations

Hormonal shifts experienced during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause can leave gums more sensitive and susceptible to inflammation.

Signs and Symptoms of Gum Disease

For early diagnosis and prompt treatment, understanding the signs and symptoms associated with gum disease is paramount. They vary depending on its stage: 


Signs include:

Red, Swollen, or Tender Gums

Gums can become reddened, swollen, and tender during brushing or flossing, especially if too much pressure is exerted when doing either activity. 

Bleeding Gums

Even when brushing or flossing gently, the gums may bleed easily, even with light pressure being used when doing either task.

Bad Breath (Halitosis)

Bad breath may occur even with regular brushing and flossing of teeth surfaces - even after successful brushing and flossing sessions!


Signs include:

Persistent Bad Breath or Taste Issues in The Mouth

Even after brushing and flossing regularly. There may also be an unpleasant aftertaste present that persists in your mouth.

Receding Gums

If gums continue to recede further, more tooth root exposure occurs, potentially making teeth loose and leading to further tooth loss. This could make the affected area uncomfortable.

Deep Pockets Between Gums and Teeth

Pockets may form between gums and teeth, creating spaces deeper than 3mm between them.

Keep in mind that gum disease may exist without noticeable symptoms in its early stages, which makes regular dental check-ups important to detecting and intervening early.

Diagnosing Gum Disease

Diagnosing gum disease requires a comprehensive examination by dental professionals. At an examination, your dentist or dental hygienist will conduct tests that focus on:

Clinical Examination

To detect inflammation in the oral cavity, such as redness, swelling or bleeding of gums. Your dentist will measure the depth of gum pockets with a periodontal probe to gauge attachment loss; additionally, they'll also check for plaque or tartar buildup on teeth.


Dental X-rays such as bitewing or panoramic radiographs may be taken to assess the condition of supporting bone structures and help detect bone loss, changes in density, or any underlying issues that could contribute to gum disease.

Additional Diagnostic Techniques

Additionally, various additional diagnostic tests may be utilized in the assessment of gum disease. Such techniques could include:

Cone Beam Computed Tomography (CBCT)

This three-dimensional imaging technique produces detailed images of teeth, gums, and bone structures for assessment of severity and extent of gum disease.

Saliva Testing

Analysis of saliva samples can provide insights into the types and amounts of bacteria present, helping identify specific pathogens linked with gum disease.

Treatment Options

Treatment options will depend on the severity of gum disease. They include:

Non-Surgical Treatments

Scaling and Root Planing

Scaling and Root Planing is a non-surgical gum infection treatment procedure used to remove plaque and tartar deposits above and below the gum line. 

Special tools used by dentists or dental hygienists access and clean the root surfaces of teeth and smooth them to discourage plaque buildup, while local anesthesia or numbing agents may be administered for patient comfort during this procedure.

Antibacterial Medications

When necessary, antimicrobial medications, such as oral antibiotics or mouth rinses with antimicrobial components, may be prescribed to control bacterial growth and reduce inflammation, augmenting the results of scaling and root planning treatments. 

  1. Surgical Treatments
  2. Periodontal Surgery

When non-invasive therapies do not suffice, or the gum disease progresses to an advanced state, periodontal surgery may become necessary. It entails accessing gum tissue and bone in order to remove deep tartar deposits, reduce pocket depths and reshape gum lines. 

Soft Tissue Grafting

When gum recession has occurred, soft tissue grafting may be performed to cover exposed tooth roots and restore an aesthetically pleasing gum line. To this end, gum tissue from one area (often the palate) may be taken and used to cover receding gum areas in order to create more visually pleasing gum lines and cover exposed roots more completely. 

Prevention of Gum Disease

The best way to prevent gum disease is to practice good oral hygiene. This includes:


Brush using soft-bristled toothbrushes and fluoride-containing toothpaste in gentle circular movements along all tooth surfaces, including the gum line.


For optimal oral hygiene, daily flossing should be performed to remove plaque and food debris from between your teeth and along the gum line. Gently glide the floss between each tooth in a C-shape manner before moving it up and down to clean all sides of your teeth.

Tongue Cleaning

Use a tongue scraper or toothbrush to rid yourself of bacteria buildup on the tongue, as this will freshen up and revive your breath.

Dental Checkups

Regular check-ups with your dentist allow early detection and prompt intervention for gum disease, as well as comprehensive evaluation, including gum health assessment.

Professional Cleanings

Regular professional dental cleanings can help keep plaque and tartar buildup at bay, even with good oral hygiene practices at home. How? Using tools designed specifically to reach areas difficult for toothbrushes or floss to reach.

Other ways to prevent gum disease include:

Quit Smoking

Smoking weakens immunity and limits blood supply to the gums, making smokers more prone to gum disease than non-smokers.

Balanced Diet

For optimal oral health, consume a diet rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy products. Sugary and acidic food and beverages contribute to plaque formation; limit their consumption as this will protect the enamel from being worn down over time.

Stay Hydrated

Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stimulate saliva production, which helps clear away food particles and neutralize acids in your mouth.

Limit Alcohol Consumption

Excessive alcohol use increases the risk for gum disease - drink it sparingly or refrain entirely.

Keep Stress Under Control

Prolonged stress can compromise immunity and increase the risk for gum disease, so adopt stress management techniques such as exercising, meditation, or engaging in hobbies. 

Final Thoughts

Gum disease is serious and can result in tooth loss. It is caused by a buildup of plaque on teeth that, if left alone, harden into tartar which irritates gums, leading to inflammation.

Gum disease is preventable! By practicing good oral hygiene habits and visiting your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings, you can help keep your gums healthy and combat gum disease.

If you don't have a dentist yet and are not sure where to find one, you can do a quick internet search for a phrase like 'dentist near me lafayette la', and it should provide a list of experts that you can check out.