Receding gums, also known as gingival recession, is a condition in which the roots of the teeth become exposed, leading to a greater risk of decay and the eventual loss of teeth, if left untreated. Exposed roots can also lead to sensitivity to hot foods, cold foods or acids, making eating an uncomfortable affair. Fortunately, modern oral hygiene and dentistry have made receding gum treatment less of a problem than in generations past, even for older adults. It is now easier than ever to both prevent and treat gingival recession. Here, we take a deeper look into what causes receding gums and how to treat the problem.
What are receding gums?
Gingival recession is the process in which the margin of the gum tissue that surrounds the teeth wears away, or pulls back, exposing more of the tooth, or the tooth’s root. When gum recession occurs, “pockets,” or gaps, form between the teeth and gum line, making it easy for disease-causing bacteria to build up. If left untreated, the supporting tissue and bone structures of the teeth can be severely damaged, and may ultimately result in tooth loss.
What causes gums to recede?
There are a number of factors that can cause your gums to recede, including:
- Periodontal diseases. These are bacterial gum infections that destroy gum tissue and supporting bone that hold your teeth in place. Gum disease is the main cause of gum recession. Some people may be more susceptible to gum disease due to genetics. In fact, studies show that 30% of the population may be predisposed to gum disease, regardless of how well they care for their teeth.
- Aggressive tooth brushing. If you brush your teeth too hard or the wrong way, it can cause the enamel on your teeth to wear away and your gums to recede.
- Insufficient dental care. Inadequate brushing, flossing, and rinsing with antibacterial mouthwash makes it easy for plaque to turn into tartar — a hard substance that builds on and between your teeth and can only be removed by a professional dental cleaning. It can lead to gum recession.
- Hormonal changes. Fluctuations in female hormone levels during a woman’s lifetime, such as in puberty, pregnancy, and menopause, can make gums more sensitive and more vulnerable to gum recession.
- Tobacco products. Tobacco users are more likely to have sticky plaque on their teeth that is difficult to remove and can cause gum recession.
- Grinding and clenching your teeth. Clenching or grinding your teeth can put too much force on the teeth, causing gums to recede.
- Crooked teeth or a misaligned bite. When teeth do not come together evenly, too much force can be placed on the gums and bone, allowing gums to recede.
- Body piercing of the lip or tongue. Jewelry can rub the gums and irritate them to the point that gum tissue is worn away.
What are the symptoms?
Gum recession is a common dental problem. Most people don’t know they have gum recession because it occurs gradually. The first sign of gum recession is usually tooth sensitivity, or you may notice a tooth looks longer than normal. Typically, a notch can be felt near the gum line.
How do you prevent receding gums?
Keeping your gums healthy is the best way to minimize recession. Brushing twice a day, flossing and keeping up with dental cleanings performed by a dental professional are usually all that is needed to keep gums from receding from the teeth. For some people, however, it’s not that simple. Heredity can cause teeth to recede, despite even the best hygiene practices. You may grind your teeth or have a misalignment, making it easier for plaque and tartar to build up at the gum line and causing it to recede.
How do you treat gingival recession?
The first step in treatment is to determine what factors are contributing to the recession, so they can be lessened or, if possible, eliminated. For instance, crooked teeth can be straightened, tobacco use curbed and better oral hygiene methods incorporated. Once those factors are addressed, different treatments can be used by your dental professional to enhance and restore the appearance to your gums:
- Deep cleaning: Your dentist and dental hygienist may use special tools in order to remove the plaque and tartar buildup on the roots where the gums are receding, a procedure known as root planing.
- Gum grafting: This involves taking the patient’s own healthy gum tissue from the palate (roof of the mouth) or using a gum grafting material to replace the missing gum tissue. Your dentist may recommend you see a periodontist, a dental specialist who treats the gum tissue and supporting bone, for this surgical procedure.
- Regeneration: In severe cases of gum recession, the bone may be destroyed. Recent advances in dentistry allow the periodontist to conduct a surgical procedure where a regenerative material is placed in the area of bone loss to help regenerate the bone and tissue. The gum tissue is then secured in that area where one or more teeth may have been involved.
Gum recession might occur very slowly, sometimes over a period of years. This can make it tough to spot if you don’t experience pain or sensitivity. However, if you notice that your teeth appear longer, or the spaces in between them appear bigger at the base, contact your dentist, as these may be signs that your receding gums require treatment.
Do you have questions about receding gums? Call Hartnett Dental to schedule an appointment with your dentist today! (716) 649-6633.