Dr. Kathleen Mullaney • DDS • FAGD

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What Causes Gum Disease?

What Causes Gum Disease?

Periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, affects millions worldwide and can lead to serious problems — from bleeding gums to tooth loss — if left untreated. But what exactly causes this common condition?

Whether you’re already dealing with symptoms or want to take steps to protect your oral health, our Alexandria dentist, Dr. Mullaney, explains the various factors that can cause gum disease and how to prevent it here.

What Is Gum Disease?

Gum disease is a common dental condition that affects the gums and bone surrounding the teeth. It’s usually caused by plaque buildup, a sticky film of bacteria that forms on the teeth and gums. If you don’t brush and floss regularly, plaque can harden into tartar, which only a dentist or dental hygienist can remove.

Periodontal disease can lead to inflammation, infection, and tissue damage if left untreated. This could eventually result in tooth loss.

Gum Disease Symptoms

There are two main stages of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis. Most people don’t have any warning signs of gingivitis. However, as the infection progresses, you may notice the following symptoms:

  • Red, swollen, and bleeding gums
  • Bad breath that doesn’t go away with brushing or flossing
  • Pain or sensitivity in the gums
  • A bad taste in your mouth
  • Receding gums
  • Loose teeth

If you notice any of these symptoms, see a dentist right away. Gum disease is treatable, but the earlier it’s diagnosed, the better.

What Causes Gum Disease?

Several factors can increase your risk of developing gum disease, including:

  • Poor oral hygiene – If you don’t brush and floss regularly, plaque can collect on your teeth and gums, leading to potential inflammation and gum disease. This is the most common cause of gum disease.
  • Smoking – Smoking and tobacco use can damage the gums and make them more susceptible to infection.
  • Certain medications – Some medications, such as those used to control seizures or high blood pressure, can increase your risk of gum disease.
  • Hormonal changes – Women are more likely to develop gum disease during pregnancy or menopause. These changes make the gums more sensitive and susceptible to inflammation, allowing for gum disease to develop.
  • Genetics – While good oral hygiene is essential for preventing gum disease, genetics can also play a role in its development. Some people may be more prone to gum disease due to genetic makeup.


How Is Gum Disease Diagnosed?

A dentist or dental hygienist can diagnose gum disease during your regular check-up.

First, they’ll inspect your gums for signs of inflammation, bleeding, and recession. Then, they’ll measure the depth of the pockets between your gums and teeth using a tiny ruler called a periodontal probe. In general, a healthy pocket depth is 3 millimeters or less.

Gum Disease Treatment

The treatment for gum disease varies depending on the severity of the condition. In the early stages, you can treat gum disease with improved oral hygiene practices, such as brushing and flossing regularly and professional dental cleanings.

Additional treatments may be necessary for more advanced cases of gum disease. These can include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

  • Scaling and root planing – This deep cleaning procedure removes plaque below the gum line and smoothes the root surfaces to help the gums reattach to the teeth.
  • Medication – Antibiotics can be prescribed to eliminate bacteria that cause gum disease. These can be taken orally or applied directly to the gums.
  • Surgery – Surgery may sometimes be necessary to treat gum disease. This can involve reducing the depth of the gum pockets or regenerating lost bone and tissue.
  • Dental implants or dentures – In severe cases where tooth loss has occurred, dental implants or dentures may be necessary to restore the functionality and appearance of the mouth.


How to Prevent Gum Disease

Preventing gum disease involves maintaining good oral hygiene and healthy lifestyle choices. Here are several ways to prevent gum disease:

  • Brush your teeth twice daily – Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste to brush your teeth for two minutes each time.
  • Floss every day – Flossing twice daily helps remove plaque from between teeth and below the gum line.
  • Rinse your mouth – Antiseptic mouthwash will reduce or temporarily eliminate bacteria in the mouth. Our dentist, Dr. Mullaney, will recommend the best one based on your needs.
  • Visit the dentist – Semi-annual dental check-ups and cleanings can ward off gum disease by removing plaque and detecting early signs of the condition.

It’s important to note that periodontal disease is a chronic condition that could come back even after you undergo treatment. To help control the infection, you’ll be put on a tighter regimen of every 3-4 months periodontal maintenance cleaning.

Contact Our Experienced Alexandria Dentist

If you think you may have gum disease, schedule an appointment with Dr. Kathleen Mullaney, DDS, today! Our Alexandria dental office will assess your condition and recommend the best course of treatment for you.

Don’t wait to prioritize your oral health — call 240-532-3335 or contact us online to learn more.
Author Bio: Dr. Kathleen Mullaney offers various general and cosmetic dentistry services in Alexandria, VA. She earned her doctorate in dental surgery from the Medical College of Virginia (MCV) and proudly served as a United States Navy dentist before opening her practice. With over 25 years of experience, Dr. Mullaney is delighted to be one of Old Town’s most respected and sought-after dentists! Call 240-532-3335 to schedule an appointment.

Deal of the Day

* Includes necessary X-rays, Velscope Oral Cancer Screening and periodontal examination
(New Patients Only, excludes cleaning. Not billable to insurance)

Trusted in the Community

Had my first visit to Dr. Mullaney’s office this month since the pandemic and the experience was gold standard. The safety processes and clean office environment were impeccable. Dr. Mullaney and staff were, as usual, amazing. Every step was explained, the protective garments worn by staff were the best I have experienced. It was a safe and positive visit and I recommend making an appointment!!

I am a new patient. After my first dentist appointment with Dr. Mullaney, I left feeling very informed and in control of ultimately making decisions about the care and treatment I receive. The staff is incredibly kind and knowledgeable. I love that they participate in helping veterans through The Freedom Day USA program. They are committed to providing a very clean and friendly atmosphere. In addition this practice goes out of its way to bring comfort and the latest in dentistry to all their patients.

I never thought that a person could enjoy going to the dentist until I started seeing Dr. Mullaney. Her attractive and serene office and Dr. Mullaney and her competent and friendly staff make every visit a pleasure. They have a gift for making each experience smooth and efficient, with meticulous attention to the patient’s needs and comfort. On a scale of 1 to 10 this practice is a 15!

Dr. Mullaney and her staff are absolutely wonderful. They are very professional, personable and greet you by name when you walk in the door. Dr. Mullaney is very talented and really has perfected her craft. Even with a last-minute treatment change, she is unwavering in performing the highest quality treatment available. I am extremely grateful to you all for making my visit pleasant and even fun!