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Gum Disease Can Even Happen to Good People

By on September 17, 2012

If you have been recently told that you have periodontal (gum) disease, you are not alone. Many adults in the United States currently have some form of the disease. Periodontal disease ranges from simple gum inflammation(gingivitis) to serious disease that may result in major damage to the supporting structures of the teeth, the soft tissue and bone. In worst cases, teeth may become loose and have to be removed.

Whether your gum disease is arrested, slowed, or advances depends a great deal on your daily oral hygiene regimen, from this point forward.

What causes gum disease?

The human mouth contains millions of bacteria. These bacteria, along with mucus and other particles, constantly form a sticky butter-like substance called plaque on the teeth. Brushing and flossing helps eliminate plaque. Plaque that is not removed quickly enough can harden and form calculus “tartar” that brushing cannot remove. Only the dentist or dental hygienist can remove tartar.


The longer plaque and tartar remain on the teeth, the more damage is done to the tissues. The bacteria cause inflammation of the gums that is called “gingivitis”. In gingivits, the gums become red, swollen and bleed easily. Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that is completely reversible with daily brushing and flossing, and twice yearly cleanings by the dentist or dental hygienist. This form of gum disease does not include any loss of bone or tissue that supports the teeth.


When gingivitis remains untreated, it may advance to “periodontitis”(inflammation around the teeth.) In periodontitis, gums pull away from the teeth and form spaces called pockets that become infected. The body’s immune system fights the bacteria as plaque spreads and grows below the gum line. Bacterial toxins and the body’s immune response to infection start to break down the bone and connective tissues that hold the teeth in place. If untreated, the bones, gums, and tissue that support teeth are destroyed. The teeth may eventually become loose and have to be extracted.


Risk Factors

Smoking. Yet another reason to quit. Smoking is one of the most significant risk factors associated with the development of gum disease. Additionally, smoking decreases the chances for successful treatment.

Hormonal changes in females. These changes may make gums more sensitive and make it easier for gingivitis to develop.

Diabetes. People with diabetes are at increased risk for developing infections, including gum disease.

Medications. There are many prescriptions and OTC(over-the-counter) medications that decrease flow of saliva, which protects teeth from i. Without enough saliva, the mouth is more susceptible to infections such as gum disease. And some medications may cause abnormal overgrowth of the gum tissue; which may make it more difficult to keep gums clean.

Genetic predisposition. Some people are more prone to severe gum disease than others.

Who gets gum disease?

People usually don’t get gum disease until their 30’s and 40’s. Men are more likely to have gum disease than women. Although teenagers rarely develop periodontitis, they can develop gingivitis, the milder form of gum disease. Most commonly, gum disease develops when plaque is allowed to build up along and below the gum line. People who do not floss regularly commonly develop gum disease.

How do I know if I have gum disease?

Symptoms of gum disease include:

  • Persistent bad breath
  • Red or Swollen gums
  • Tender or Bleeding gums
  • Painful chewing
  • Loose teeth
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Receding gums or longer appearing teeth

I decided to write this article because of the many phone calls I received over the years. Keep in mind that regular cleanings cost about $100, when you are diagnosed with gum disease it requires you to have a more extensive cleaning called Scaling and Root Planing, also referred to as a “deep cleaning”. The deep cleaning costs about $1,000 and is done in 4 sections(quadrants) of the mouth.

If you fail to floss and you are a black male around the age of 40, you should expect periodontal disease. I feel that many African-American mothers fail to see the importance of flossing and don’t stress flossing to the children. We don’t floss because our mothers didn’t make us do it.

My rule is floss only the teeth you want to keep. 

Dr. Keith E. Shepard, DDS is a graduate of Howard University with over a decade of dentistry experience. He is a Contributor to healthyblackmen.org.


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  3. Andre Ponder

    October 21, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    Great article Dr. Shepard. If parents(mothers)are not making their children floss regularly. Are there any incentives or initiatives that schools can adopt to help encourage students to brush and floss daily?

  4. Keith Shepard

    September 22, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Someone with experience, someone with a modern office with technology, and someone who accepts your insurance. Ask your friends or co-workers who their dentist is and if they would recommend him/her.

  5. Keith Shepard

    September 22, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    Yet another great reason to quit smoking.

  6. Markus

    September 22, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    I think I need a new dentist. The one I have does’nt have good teeth himself. What should I look for when shopping for a new provider?

  7. Leroy McKane

    September 19, 2012 at 11:30 am

    So glad I quit smoking cause my gums were getting pretty bad. They’re doing so much better now.

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