What are the most common oral health problems?

The most common oral health problems are cavities and gum disease.

Dental cavities Everyone is at risk for getting cavities throughout life. By the time most people are adults, 85 percent of people will have had a cavity!

Why? You naturally have bacteria (germs) in your mouth. The bacteria mix with your saliva and bits of food in your mouth to form a coating (dental plaque) that sticks to your teeth. There are acids in the plaque that wear away the teeth. These acids can get inside the teeth and create holes in the teeth, or cavities.

Gum diseases Gum disease is caused by infection or plaque around your teeth and is a common cause of tooth loss after age 35. The first stage and most common type of gum disease is gingivitis (jin-ji-vie-tus). Gingivitis irritates the gums and causes them to bleed and swell. Gum diseases are more often seen as people age, with most people showing signs of them by their mid-30s.

Periodontitis (pear-ee-o-don-tie-tus) is a more serious type of gum disease that, if left untreated, gets worse as pockets of infection form between the teeth and gums. This causes your gums to grow away from teeth and lose supporting bone. If the teeth can’t be supported, they could fall out. This disease results from bacteria in your mouth. You may be more likely to be infected with these bacteria if:

  • someone else in your family has periodontitis
  • you are a smoker
  • you have a disease like diabetes or HIV


Normal, healthy gums

Healthy gums and bone anchor teeth firmly in place.


Unremoved, plaque hardens into calculus (tartar). As plaque and calculus continue to build up, the gums begin to recede (pull away) from the teeth, and pockets form between the teeth and gums.

Advanced peridontitis

The gums recede farther, destroying more bone and the periodontal ligament. Teeth even healthy teeth may become loose and need to be extracted.