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Causes of gum disease

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Gum disease (gingivitis) can be caused by a number of factors. However, poor oral hygiene


the most common cause.

Poor oral hygiene, such as not brushing your teeth properly or regularly, can cause plaque to build up on your teeth. Plaque is a sticky substance that contains bacteria.


After eating and drinking sugary food and drink, the bacteria in your mouth break the carbohydrates down into acid.

The acid combines with bacteria, saliva in your mouth and any small particles of food remaining after brushing to produce a sticky film called plaque.

Plaque is usually easy to remove by brushing and flossing your teeth. Brush your teeth at least twice a day (once in the morning and once at night) and floss at least three times a week.

If plaque is not removed it can harden and form a substance called tartar. Tartar sticks much more firmly to teeth than plaque and can usually only be removed by a dentist.

Poor oral hygiene

Poor oral hygiene can cause plaque and tartar to build up on your teeth. Bacteria in plaque will irritate your gums, making them inflamed and sore. This is gum disease.

If gum disease is not treated and plaque and tartar continue to build up you may develop periodontitis. This can lead to your teeth becoming loose and eventually falling out.

Who is at risk?

You are more at risk of developing gum disease and periodontitis if you:

  • smoke
  • have diabetes - a long-term condition caused by too much glucose in the blood
  • have a weakened immune system - for example, due to conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or certain treatments such as chemotherapy (powerful cancer-killing medication)

Acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis

As with other types of gum disease, poor oral hygiene is the main cause of acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG). Other risk factors include:

  • smoking
  • having a weakened immune system
  • malnutrition - a condition caused by not eating enough of the right food groups to get all of the nutrients needed for good health
  • stress
Medical Review: March 21, 2012

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