Periodontal Disease – How It Forms

Posted on Nov 01, 2017 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

Last night’s Halloween festivities reminded me just how easily gum disease can form. Late night indulging in the candy gathered by Trick or Treaters could be counted as ‘Step One’ in the process. Here is how it occurs…

Let’s say you indulge in a few sweet treats in the evening. Most of us do on occasion. But let’s say you are so busy that you forget to brush and floss before going to bed. When you wake up, your mouth feels sticky and you can feel a film over teeth. But let’s say you have overslept and are running so late that you fail to brush your teeth before you leave the house.

As you grab a sweetened coffee and donut on the way out the door, you remind yourself to pop a breath mint in your mouth before you get to work, hoping that will camouflage the smelly film that coats your tongue, teeth and gums.

Over the course of the day, you stir sugar in your coffee, sip cola at your desk after lunch and have a candy bar as a pick-me-up mid-afternoon. Heading home, you sip another cola.

Now, let’s look at what your mouth has endured during this process and why your potential for gum disease is greatly increased because of it.

First, the late-night, sugar-laden sweet treat that you ate the evening before is the perfect fuel for oral bacteria. Sugar super-charges oral bacteria, enabling these living, breathing creatures to reproduce rapidly. And, the more they reproduce, the more there are to reproduce.

As oral bacteria grow and thrive in your mouth, they form a film that coats teeth and gums. This is know as plaque. Plaque can form quickly because of how rapid oral bacteria can reproduce. It can be felt by running your tongue over teeth at the end of the day before brushing.

If plaque is not removed daily, it can harden into a substance known as tartar, or calculus. This cement-hard mass attaches to teeth and cannot be brushed or flossed away. It can only be removed by dental professionals using special tools.

Once tartar is on teeth, this mass colony of bacteria continues to grow, eating into tooth enamel and gum tissues. As the bacteria become more than the immune system can manage, the gum tissues become inflamed. This is the beginning of gum disease.

Now, consider that each time you eat or drink, an acid attack begins in the mouth. This is actually a normal part of the digestive process, which helps to break foods down as we chew. However, frequent eating AND consuming food and beverages that contain sugar can easily become more than our oral health can combat.

One of the worst culprits along these lines is soda. Because many people consume sodas by sipping them over the course of an hour, the prolonged acid attack the mouth must endure is a tremendous challenge to one’s oral health. As oral bacteria thrive in the mouth from the sugar, the gums are weakened and the enamel is softened, setting teeth and gums up for disaster.

As the growth of bacteria penetrate beneath the gum line, they are able to attack the structures that support teeth. The inflammation spreads and the gums become sore and turn red. At this point, periodontal disease is running rampant.

As the inflammation expands, the gum tissues bleed easily when brushing teeth. Bad breath is a frequent problem now and the gums are swollen in some areas. At this point, the gums are infected and brushing cannot undo the onslaught of oral bacterial growth.

The infectious bacteria cause pus pockets to form on gums. Because of the damage to gum tissues and bone structures that support teeth, some teeth will loosen and may require removal.

What’s unknown to many, however, is the fact that this infectious bacteria can penetrate gum tissues and enter the bloodstream. Once bloodborne, oral bacteria can travel throughout the body and trigger inflammatory reactions elsewhere.

Research has shown links between oral bacteria and heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, preterm babies, some cancers, high blood pressure, impotency and even Alzheimer’s disease. As a matter of fact, the make-up of tissues from oral bacteria and that of affected arthritis joints are nearly identical — both being inflammatory diseases. (

Now, let’s rewind. Rather than have this destructive process occur in the first place, let’s consider how easy it is to prevent. By devoting 2-3 minutes twice a day to proper brushing (at least two minutes each time) and daily flossing (which requires a minute, typically), you can prevent this wildfire effect of inflammatory bacteria growth and destruction.

For tartar buildup that does occur, your 6-month checkups are designed to remove this and give you a clean slate for having and keeping a healthy mouth between visits.

Gum disease is the nation’s leading cause of adult tooth loss. This is sad, considering that gum disease is so preventable. Even worse, the infectious oral bacteria of gum disease can contribute to systemic inflammation, which has been associated with a long list of diseases and serious health conditions.

You can protect your smile and your overall health by renewing your commitment to having and maintaining good oral health. Rather than assume all is well with your oral health unless something hurts, know that your smile needs your attention at least twice a day as well as twice-a-year dental visits.

Let’s get your smile into tip-top shape so it’s easy to maintain! As a periodontal specialist, I have advanced training in treating all levels of periodontal disease and restoring oral health. Additionally, I am able to prevent tooth loss in many instances.

If you’ve delayed dental checkups or suspect you have gum disease, please call 828-274-9440 to schedule an exam.




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