Two dentists are performing a procedure on a patient

The Oral Health Implications of Receding Gums

Are your teeth sensitive to sweet, sour, spicy, hot or cold foods? Do your teeth look longer than they used to, or seem to have more space between them? Your gums may be receding, possibly even exposing the roots of the teeth.

The main cause is gum disease which occurs when dental plaque is not removed by brushing your teeth daily. Plaque is a sticky substance made from leftover food particles and saliva that grows on surfaces within the mouth. Bacteria in dental plaque along with their toxins break down tissues, and can cause receding gums. This can be hard to spot because it happens gradually.

If left untreated, periodontal disease (advanced gum disease), can occur and infect the tissues that support the teeth. By this time, it’s clear receding gums are a problem. As the tissue is attacked and the infection worsens, tooth loss can happen.

What Causes Gums to Recede

Several factors can play a role in receding gums.

  • Genetics: Some people are more susceptible to periodontal disease. Studies show that 30% of the population may be predisposed to gum disease, even if they take good care of their teeth.
  • Brushing too hard: If you brush your teeth too aggressively or incorrectly, it can cause your tooth’s enamel to wear away and your gums to recede.
  • Hormone levels: Puberty, pregnancy, and menopause can caue changes in estrogen levels over a woman’s life. These changes can make gums increasingly sensitive and vulnerable to gum recession.
  • Tobacco products: Smokers, and other tobacco users, are more likely to develop sticky plaque which can cause gum recession.
  • Grinding and clenching your teeth: Clenching or grinding your teeth can exert too much force on the teeth, causing gums to recede.
  • Crooked teeth or a misaligned bite: When teeth don’t come together evenly, too much force can be exerted on the gums and surrounding bone, allowing gums to recede.
  • A pierced lip or tongue: Jewelry can rub the gums and irritate them to the point that gum tissue is worn away.

How is Gum Recession Treated?

Mild gum recession may be able to be treated by your dentist by deep cleaning the affected area. During the deep cleaning—also called tooth scaling and root planing—plaque and tartar that has built up on the teeth and root surfaces below the gum line is carefully removed and the exposed root area is smoothed to make it more difficult for bacteria to attach itself. Antibiotics also may be prescribed to get rid of any remaining harmful bacteria.

If the bone supporting your teeth has been destroyed as a result of gum recession, a procedure to regenerate lost bone and tissue may be recommended. Your dentist will fold back the gum tissue and remove the bacteria. A regenerative material, such as a membrane, graft tissue, or tissue-stimulating protein, will then be applied to encourage your body to naturally regenerate bone and tissue in that area. After the regenerative material is put in place, the gum tissue is secured over the root of the tooth or teeth.

How Can I prevent Gum Recession?

Besides monitoring changes that may occur in your mouth, the best way to prevent gum recession is to practice good daily dental care.

  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Eat a well-balanced and healthy diet.