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risk factorsRisk Factors and Gum Disease

The main cause of periodontal (gum) disease is the bacterial plaque that forms on your teeth, but other factors can affect the health of your gums. These can make you more susceptible to getting the disease, or may make any existing disease worse.

One of the most important elements in the successful treatment of periodontal disease is the control of these risk factors

Smoking / Tobacco use

Tobacco use is linked with many serious illnesses such as cancer, lung disease and heart disease, as well as numerous other health problems. Studies have shown that tobacco use may be one of the most significant risk factors in the development and progression of periodontal disease.


Research has indicated that some people may be genetically susceptible to gum disease. Even with very effective oral care habits, these people may be more likely to develop periodontal disease. Identifying these people with a genetic test before they even show signs of the disease and getting them into early treatment may help them keep their teeth for a lifetime.


Stress is linked to many serious conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), cancer, and numerous other health problems. Stress also is a risk factor for periodontal disease. Research demonstrates that stress can make it more difficult for the body to fight off infection, including periodontal diseases.


Some drugs, such as oral contraceptives, anti-depressants, and certain heart medicines, can affect your oral health. Just as you notify your pharmacist and other health care providers of all medicines you are taking and any changes in your overall health, you should also inform us, as your dental care providers.

Clenching or Grinding your teeth

Clenching or grinding your teeth can place very high forces on the supporting tissues of the teeth and could speed up the rate at which these periodontal tissues are destroyed.

Other systemic diseases

Other systemic diseases that interfere with the body’s inflammatory system may worsen the condition of the gums. These include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Poor nutrition and obesity

Foods containing high sugar and starches act to promote the growth of bacteria which can be a perfect foundation upon which gum disease can thrive.

A poor diet with low nutrient intake makes the immune system sluggish and less able to fight off infections such as gum disease when they attack.

Vitamins and minerals provide the body with the building blocks to build and renew bones, muscles, blood and tissue. Low vitamin and mineral intake means that the gum tissue and bones will not be as strong as they could be, therefore more susceptible to disease.


The increased exposure to the sugars and acids within an alcoholic drink contributes to plaque formation. Furthermore, people who over-use alcohol, just like sufferers of stress, are less likely to pay close attention to their dental hygiene; increasing the plaque build-up further.

With alcohol, however, there is another aggravating factor, in addition to the build-up of plaque. Alcohol dehydrates the body, and this dehydration affects saliva production in the mouth. When saliva production drops,  bacteria on your teeth are not washed away in the normal fashion. This means that plaque formation is speeded-up, increasing the risk of damage to the mouth.


More periodontal disease is seen in older people – 86% of the UK population over the age of 65yrs have some gum disease. The good news, however, is that age in itself is not thought to be a risk factor (although that’s actually rather difficult to prove, as testing would require a scientific study with people who got younger or who didn’t age, to compare to those who did age!)

It does seem that as we get older, our lifetime exposure to other risk factors increases and this is why more periodontal disease is seen in older age-groups.

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