Periodontal (Gum) Disease Risk Factors


Did you know that 37 million Americans have some level of gum disease?

While the main cause of periodontal disease is plaque bacteria, many other risk factors affect your gums and how your body fights a gum infection.   This means that each person has their own level of risk for periodontal disease.  Understanding your risk is the first step in understanding your disease.


  • Poor Oral Homecare:  Because plaque that is loaded with harmful bacteria that causes periodontal infections in building in your mouth daily, good oral homecare is necessary to prevent and fight periodontal disease.  
  • Infrequent Professional Dental Visits: Research has shown that those who visited their dental office at least once a year had a 44% lower risk of periodontitis than those who did not.
  • Genetics: Genetic risk factors influence one’s susceptibility and progression of gum disease.  
  • Smoking/Vaping:  This is the strongest environmental risk factor for periodontal disease. Almost 70% of patients who have periodontal disease are smokers, current or past.  Smoking dries the mouth, which is an attractive environment for harmful bacteria.  In addition, the chemicals in tobacco products can alter your body’s immune response, which can make it more difficult for your body to fight a gum infection.
  • Age:  The risk of developing increases as we age.  According the CDC, 70.1% of adults over the age of 65 have some level of periodontal disease.
  • Other Systemic Diseases:  Some diseases can interfere with your body’s inflammatory system causing increased risk of oral infections. These diseases include diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, certain autoimmune diseases, and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Grinding or Clenching: Also called bruxism, affects 95% of Americans according to the American Dental Association.  Bruxism causes trauma, which can damage not only teeth, but also the underlying support structure such as ligaments and bone that hold your teeth in place.  Weakening in supporting structures make them more susceptible to harmful bacteria.
  • Missing Teeth: Tooth extraction leads to bone loss.  Missing teeth also force remaining teeth to work harder to chew, which may stress supporting ligaments.  
  • Misaligned (crooked) Teeth:  When teeth are not straight, they are harder to keep clean, which allows more harmful bacteria to invade in-between teeth and underneath gums.
  • Dental Work/Braces:  Large fillings, crowns, and orthodontic appliances can attract bacteria and hinder oral homecare.
  • Hormonal Changes:  For women, hormonal changes can affect how your body responds to the bacteria that causes gum disease.  Pregnancy and menopause can increase risk of periodontal disease.
  • StressResearch shows that stress causes the body difficulty in fighting infections, which includes periodontal disease.
  • Poor Nutrition:  Poor nutrition may hinder your body’s ability to fight gum infections.
  • Obesity: Although research continues, studies suggests a link between periodontal disease and obesity.


  • Gender – Research shows that periodontitis is more prevalent in men than women.
  • Socioeconomic Status – Lack of access to care increase risk of oral disease.


While some risk factors can be eliminated or modified, others cannot such as genetics.  Your dentist can help you identify your risk factors and offer ways to reduce them.  

One of the best ways to reduce your risk of periodontal disease is to visit your dental office regularly for professional dental cleanings and examination.  Not only does that appointment rid your teeth and gums of harmful bacteria, the visit also allows you to ask your dental team about your own risk factors for gum disease.

If you are at risk for periodontal disease, your dental office may refer you to a periodontist in Central PA who can help you reduce risk and improve your oral health.