Gum (Periodontal) Disease

Risk Factors and Prevention

Risk Factors

There are a number of risk factors that can increase your chances of developing periodontal disease.

  • Smoking is one of the most significant risk factors associated with the development of gum disease. Smoking can also lower the chances for successful treatment.
  • Hormonal changes in women can make gums more sensitive and make it easier for gingivitis to develop.
  • People with diabetes are at higher risk for developing infections, including gum disease.
  • Diseases like cancer or AIDS and their treatments can also negatively affect the health of gums.
  • There are hundreds of prescription and over-the-counter medications that can reduce the flow of saliva, which has a protective effect on the mouth. Without enough saliva, the mouth is vulnerable to infections such as gum disease. And some medicines can cause abnormal overgrowth of the gum tissue; this can make it difficult to keep teeth and gums clean.
  • Some people are more prone to severe gum disease because of their genetic makeup.

Prevention

Here are some things you can do to prevent gum disease.

  • Brush your teeth twice a day (with a fluoride toothpaste).
  • Floss regularly to remove plaque from between teeth. Or use a device such as a special pick recommended by a dental professional. Visit the dentist routinely for a check-up and professional cleaning.
  • Visit the dentist routinely for a check-up and professional cleaning.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet. (For more information, see "Eating Well As You Get Older" at http://nihseniorhealth.gov/eatingwellasyougetolder/toc.html

Tips for Easier At-Home Care

  • If your hands have become stiff because of arthritis or if you have a physical disability, you may find it difficult to use your toothbrush or dental floss. The following tips might make it easier for you to clean your teeth and gums.
  • Make the toothbrush easier to hold. The same kind of Velcro® strap used to hold food utensils is helpful for some people.
  • Another way to make the toothbrush easier to hold is to attach the brush to the hand with a wide elastic or rubber band.
  • Make the toothbrush handle bigger. You can cut a small slit in the side of a tennis ball and slide it onto the handle of the toothbrush.
  • You can also buy a toothbrush with a large handle, or you can slide a bicycle grip onto the handle.
  • Try other toothbrush options. A power toothbrush might make brushing easier.
  • A floss holder can make it easier to hold the dental floss.
  • Also, talk with your dentist about whether an oral irrigation system, special small brushes, or other instruments that clean between teeth are right for you. Be sure to check with your dentist, though, before using any of these methods since they may injure the gums if used improperly.