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Updated on September 25, 2023
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Are You At Risk for Gum Disease?

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When someone develops gum disease, there’s generally more than one contributing factor.

In the past, it was thought that everyone was equally at risk of gum disease if they had poor oral hygiene.1 Now, we know that various contributing factors play a role in the development of gum disease.

Some risk factors, like oral hygiene, are within your control. Others are not, making some people more susceptible to gum disease than others.

This article will define gum disease and discuss important risk factors. We’ll start with the ones you can’t change and then move on to the ones you can.

What is Gum Disease?

Gum disease (periodontal disease) refers to several inflammatory conditions that can affect your gums and other nearby tissues. It’s ultimately caused by a bacterial infection and your body’s immune response to it.

Gum Diseases comparisons

Gingivitis vs. Periodontitis

Mild gum disease, or gingivitis, refers to gum inflammation. Fortunately, gingivitis is reversible and usually doesn’t lead to more severe gum disease. Sometimes hormone fluctuations play a role in making your gums more sensitive than usual.

In more advanced gum disease, known as periodontitis, gum tissue is at risk of being permanently destroyed. The underlying bone and connective tissues are also affected, which can eventually lead to tooth loss.

Gingivitis can be reversed with proper oral hygiene and/or professional cleaning. Periodontitis, on the other hand, involves tissue damage. It requires additional periodontal treatment to prevent it from getting worse.

Uncontrollable Risk Factors

The risk factors you cannot control stem from your genetics or specific health concerns.


As far as genetics is concerned, if you have one or more parents with severe periodontal disease, you are more likely to get it.

Gum disease is not, however, a genetic disease, so all this means is that you might have a genetic predisposition for it. The good news is that if you know this and act on it by maintaining great oral hygiene and seeing your dentist or periodontist on a consistent basis, you can fight that predisposition. 


Large swings in hormones, such as those that occur during puberty or pregnancy, increase your risk for gum disease.

The gums become ultra-sensitive, overreaching to the tiniest amount of plaque buildup.

People going through these hormonal changes may notice that their gums are bright red, puffy, tender, and bleed when they brush or floss. The key to battling this risk factor is keeping the teeth as clean as possible, so there is nothing for your gums to overreact about.

Autoimmune Diseases

There are a few autoimmune diseases that affect the soft tissue lining the inside of the mouth, like pemphigoid and oral lichen planus.

These disorders also put you at a higher risk for gum disease due to their involvement in chronic inflammation.


Diabetes affects millions of Americans, and the effects of this disease on the body can be devastating.

It causes nerve damage and constriction of blood flow to extremities, which is why diabetic patients often lose toes or suffer from blindness. What many do not realize is that your gum tissues are an extremity.

Diabetes makes gum disease progress faster because your body isn’t able to bring important healing cells to the gum tissues.

Now, technically, diabetes is both a risk factor that you can control and one that you cannot. You cannot control the fact that you have diabetes. You can, however, control the diabetes itself by closely monitoring your blood sugar, complying with all nutritional recommendations by your doctor, and taking the appropriate medications. People with controlled diabetes are better able to control their gum disease, and vice versa.

Controllable Risk Factors

Now let’s look at the risk factors that you have complete control over.

Poor Oral Hygiene

The root cause of all gum disease is plaque.

Plaque is the soft buildup that collects on your teeth, containing bacteria, food debris, and exfoliated cells from the tissue lining your mouth. In order to avoid gum disease, you must remove plaque buildup from the teeth and gums every single day. 

The most common risk factor and cause of gum disease in American adults is simply a bad oral hygiene routine. Either they don’t brush at all, or their brushing technique is faulty.

Some people never floss, which leaves plaque between the teeth. To fight this risk factor, you must brush properly twice a day and floss every night before bed. 

Lack of Dental Care

Great home care isn’t all you need.

Even the best brushers and flossers cannot perfectly remove all of the plaque from the teeth. For that reason, consistent visits with a dental hygienist for professional teeth cleanings are also essential to fighting gum disease. 

The hygienist will remove any bacterial buildup, both soft plaque, and hard tartar, from the teeth, leaving you with a “clean slate” to resume your great home care.

People who only go to the dentist when something hurts are at high risk for gum disease. Those who go for routine dental care have a much lower risk.

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth can actually fall into both categories, like diabetes.

There are some ways in which you can control dry mouth. However, if you take multiple prescription medications that are necessary for your health, you cannot really control the dry mouth they may cause.

Let’s discuss the ways you can control dry mouth.

Many people suffer from dry mouth due to simple dehydration. Most Americans do not drink enough water. On top of that, they probably do drink things that dehydrate you, like caffeine, alcohol, and high-sugar drinks.  Overindulging in alcohol also leads to severe dry mouth.

Dry mouth increases your risk for gum disease because it makes it easier for plaque to stick to the teeth. Saliva has a protective role, fighting bacteria and flushing away plaque. Without it, the mouth is at a higher risk for progressive gum disease.


Smoking anything is terrible for your mouth.

Whether it is traditional cigarettes, marijuana, or vaping, it is bad. Any inhalation leads to dry mouth, which we just discussed.

Nicotine in any form also decreases the blood flow to your gum tissues, as we described under the “Diabetes” section above. There is absolutely nothing good about smoking. Don’t start. And if you already did, it is time to stop.

What’s the Takeaway?

Since you can control some of the risk factors for gum disease, take matters into your own hands by following our recommendations here.

Gum disease can be expensive to treat, and you have all the tools you need to prevent it. Don’t put yourself at risk.

Last updated on September 25, 2023
7 Sources Cited
Last updated on September 25, 2023
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Van Dyke, T.E., and Sheilesh, D. "Risk Factors for Periodontitis." Journal of the International Academy of Periodontology, 2005.
  2. Alear et al. "Risk Factors for Periodontal Diseases." Journal of the Faculty of Dentistry of the University of Antioquia, 2010.
  3. Koshi et al. "Risk assessment for peridodontal disease." Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology, 2012.
  4. Relvas et al. "Study of Prevalence, Severity and Risk Factors of Periodontal Disease in a Portuguese Population." Journal of Clinical Medicine, 2022.
  5. Gayatri et al. "Behavioral risk factors and periodontal disease in Malang, Indonesia." Gaceta Sanitaria, 2021.
  6. Liccardo et al. "Periodontal Disease: A Risk Factor for Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease." International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 2019.
  7. Bingham et al. "Periodontal disease and rheumatoid arthritis: the evidence accumulates for complex pathobiologic interactions." Current Opinion in Rheumatology, 2013.
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