What Causes Gum Disease and How Do You Prevent It?

Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is an infection of the gums surrounding your teeth. Gum disease is one of the top reasons for tooth loss in adults, and because it is virtually pain-free in the beginning, many patients do not know they have the disease. Because periodontal disease is a slow, asymptomatic disease, if patients do not have regular dental checkups and cleanings, it can go undetected for years.

Here at Dr. Brian Cox Dentistry, we often see young, healthy patients come to our Fort Collins dental office after not visiting the dentist for several years. Usually, these are patients who may have just graduated from college or trade school and are now entering the workforce with (hopefully) some health benefits provided by their employer or some money in their pockets to spend on health and dental care. They know that they are overdue for a professional dental cleaning and an exam. However, more often than not, new patients will come into our office because they have been experiencing recent dental pain that has gotten progressively worse. Unfortunately, it is often at this time when the patient begins to experience symptoms that they are in the moderate to severe stages of periodontal disease.

What Causes Gum Disease?

Gum disease is caused by a buildup of plaque and tartar on the crown and root surface of the teeth (a sticky form of bacteria that forms on the teeth). If the plaque is not removed (by flossing, brushing, and regular dental checkups), it will continue to build up and create toxins that can damage the gums. Periodontal disease forms just below the gum line and creates small pockets that separate the gums from the teeth.

Periodontal Disease has Two Stages


This is the early stage of gum disease, when the gums become red and swollen and bleed easily. At this stage, the disease is treatable and can usually be eliminated by daily brushing and flossing.


If left untreated, gingivitis will advance into periodontitis, and the gums and bone that support the teeth will become seriously and irreversibly damaged. Gums infected with periodontitis can cause teeth to become loose, fall out, or be removed by a dentist.

Not all gum disease can be reversed, though there are several treatment options available. The first stage of gum disease, gingivitis, can be reversed with regular professional cleanings by our hygienist and with proper oral home care. Once a patient has progressed to the second stage of gum disease, periodontitis, where there is bone loss, we can stop the disease from progressing, but we cannot regrow the bone.

Are You at Risk for Gum Disease?

Certain factors can increase a patient’s risk of developing periodontal disease, including:

  • Improper or poor oral hygiene
  • Smoking or using chewing tobacco
  • Diabetes
  • Certain types of medication such as steroids, anti-epilepsy drugs, cancer therapy drugs, calcium channel blockers, and oral contraceptives
  • Dental restorations (fillings, crowns, bridges) that are not correct
  • Crooked teeth
  • Old fillings
  • Pregnancy
  • Poor nutritional health
  • Living in poverty

Prevention is the Best Medicine

Preventing periodontal disease and premature tooth loss is the primary reason for visiting Dr. Cox and our hygiene team at least twice a year for a professional cleaning and exam. During each regular checkup, Dr. Cox and our hygienist will check for any signs of periodontal disease. This is called preventive dentistry and it is your best chance of keeping your teeth healthy. Practicing preventive dentistry saves you money (and time and potential pain/discomfort).

It is our goal to keep your gums and teeth healthy so that you never need a specific dental treatment due to poor oral hygiene. Both of our hygienists have experience working with periodontists and specifically treat periodontal disease. Our hygienists are excellent educators — they go beyond just giving you a cleaning. They provide education to give you the tools you need to maintain your oral health properly at home.

Your hygiene appointment at our Fort Collins dental office is an hour-long appointment. We feel that an hour is the amount of time necessary to provide a throughout cleaning, an oral cancer screening, and to educate and demonstrate how to take care of your oral health at home. We do not rush preventive care appointments. Period.

What is Gum Disease?

Also known as periodontal disease, gum disease is mostly caused by plaque and bacteria buildup that is not treated in its early stage. Other causes of periodontal disease include tobacco use, teeth grinding, some medications, and genetics. Gingivitis is the beginning stage of gum disease, and, if detected, is treatable. Gingivitis left untreated may turn into gum disease. Advanced gum disease will lead to tooth and bone loss, and is a permanent condition. Brushing your teeth regularly and visiting the dentist every six months will help prevent gingivitis and more severe cases of periodontal disease. Common signs of gum disease:

  • Red, irritated, bleeding, or swollen gums
  • Chronic bad breath
  • Loose teeth, or loss of teeth
  • Extreme tooth sensitivity
  • Receding gum line
  • Abscessed teeth