Conditions,  Gums

Gum Recession: Treatment, Surgery, Causes and Prevention

Key Facts

  • Gum recession refers to the process in which the margin of the gum tissue that surrounds the teeth wears away or pulls back
  • It exposes more of the tooth or the tooth’s root
  • Receding gums can be a sign of gum disease, but other factors such as genetics, aggressive tooth brushing, tobacco use, and hormonal changes can also contribute
  • Gum recession is common among adults over the age of 40, but it can also occur in younger individuals
  • Several factors including periodontal diseases, genetics, and lifestyle choices contribute to gum recession
  • If left untreated, gum recession can lead to tooth sensitivity, decay, and eventually tooth loss
  • Treatment options range from deep cleaning to surgical procedures

What are the Gums?

The gums, or gingiva, are the soft tissue that covers the jawbone and surrounds the base of the teeth. This tissue forms a seal around the teeth, supporting the bones and providing a barrier against bacteria.

What is Gum Recession?

Gum recession is a dental condition where the margins of the gum tissue that surround the teeth wear away or pull back, exposing more of the tooth’s crown or root. This creates gaps or pockets between the teeth and gum line, making it easy for bacteria to build up. If left untreated, the supporting tissue and bone structures of the teeth can be severely damaged, and may eventually result in tooth loss. Gum recession is often one of the early signs of periodontal disease.

Who Does Gum Recession Affect?

Gum recession can affect individuals of all ages, but it’s more common in adults over the age of 40. However, studies have shown that the process can begin in individuals who are in their teens or early twenties. It affects both men and women, though men are slightly more likely to experience gum recession.
While gum recession is often associated with gum disease, people with excellent oral hygiene can also experience it. Factors such as genetics, tooth positioning, and habits like using tobacco or brushing too aggressively can cause or exacerbate gum recession regardless of age.

How Common is Gum Recession?

Gum recession is a fairly common dental issue. According to various studies, it has been estimated that over 50% of adults have some form of gum recession. However, because the condition can often be painless, especially in the early stages, many individuals may not realize they have receding gums until it becomes more severe.
In many instances, people first notice gum recession when they experience tooth sensitivity or when they feel a notch near the gum line. Because gum recession is gradual, it is important to pay close attention to oral hygiene and any changes in the gums and teeth.

What Causes Recession of Gums? Why Do Gums Recede?

There are several factors that can cause or contribute to gum recession, including:

  • Periodontal Diseases: These bacterial gum infections destroy gum tissue and the supporting bone that holds your teeth in place. Gum disease is the main cause of gum recession.
  • Genetics: Some people are more susceptible to gum disease, and studies have shown that 30% of the population may be predisposed to gum disease, regardless of how well they care for their teeth.
  • Aggressive Tooth Brushing: Brushing your teeth too hard or the wrong way can cause the enamel to wear away and the gums to recede.
  • Insufficient Dental Care: Inadequate brushing, flossing, and rinsing allow plaque to turn into tartar — a hard substance that can only be removed by a dentist and which 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: Users of tobacco products are more likely to have sticky plaque on their teeth, which can cause gum recession.
  • Grinding and Clenching Your Teeth: This can put 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 placed on the gums and bone, allowing gums to recede.
  • Lip or Tongue Piercings: Jewelry can rub the gums and irritate them to the point that gum tissue is worn away.
  • Changes in Hormones or Medications: Certain medications can affect oral health and make individuals more susceptible to gum recession.

Gum Recession Symptoms: How Can I Tell if I Have Receding Gums? What are the Symptoms of Gum Recession?

Gum recession tends to be a gradual process, and its symptoms can sometimes be subtle.
Here are some common signs and symptoms associated with gum recession:

  • Longer Teeth Appearance: One of the most common signs of gum recession is that your teeth may appear longer than normal.
  • Tooth Sensitivity: You may experience increased sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet substances. This occurs because the root surface, which is not covered by enamel, is exposed.
  • Notching at the Gum Line: You may feel a notch or a change in the texture just below the gum line.
  • Red or Inflamed Gums: The gum tissue may appear red or inflamed near the margin.
  • Tooth Mobility: In advanced cases, the teeth may become loose due to loss of supporting gum tissue and bone.
  • Change in the Way Teeth Fit Together: As gums recede, you might notice a change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite.
  • Pain or Discomfort: There might be pain or discomfort around the gum area.
  • Bad Breath or Bad Taste in the Mouth: This can be due to the accumulation of bacteria and plaque.

How Can I Reduce Sensitivity Caused by Gum Recession?

Reducing sensitivity caused by gum recession involves protecting the exposed root surfaces and maintaining good oral hygiene.
Here are some ways to manage and reduce sensitivity:

  • Use a Toothpaste for Sensitive Teeth: Toothpastes formulated for sensitive teeth often contain potassium nitrate or strontium chloride which can help block the pain associated with tooth sensitivity.
  • Use a Soft-bristled Toothbrush: A soft-bristled toothbrush can clean your teeth effectively without being too harsh on your gums. Be sure to brush gently and use proper technique.
  • Avoid Acidic Foods and Beverages: Acidic foods and beverages can exacerbate tooth sensitivity. It’s a good idea to limit these and to drink water after consuming them to neutralize the acids.
  • Use a Fluoride Mouthwash: A fluoride rinse can help to reduce tooth sensitivity. Ask your dentist for recommendations.
  • Consider a Dental Procedure: Procedures such as bondings or gum grafts can protect exposed roots and reduce sensitivity.
  • Avoid Teeth Grinding: If you grind or clench your teeth, talk to your dentist about getting a mouthguard. This can help protect your teeth and gums.
  • Regular Dental Checkups: Regular dental visits will help your dentist monitor the health of your gums and provide guidance on how to reduce sensitivity.

What’s the Best Toothpaste for Gum Recession?

Toothpastes that are specifically formulated for sensitive teeth are often recommended for individuals with gum recession.
Here are a few components to look for in toothpaste if you are dealing with gum recession:

  • Potassium Nitrate: This ingredient helps to desensitize nerve endings in the teeth and can reduce pain associated with gum recession.
  • Fluoride: Fluoride can help to strengthen tooth enamel and prevent tooth decay. It’s particularly important when the roots are exposed due to gum recession.
  • Anti-bacterial Properties: As gum recession can be linked to gum disease, using a toothpaste with antibacterial properties can be beneficial.
  • Non-abrasive: Toothpaste for sensitive teeth should be non-abrasive, as abrasive toothpaste can worsen the recession.

Some popular brands that are often recommended for sensitive teeth and gum recession include Sensodyne, Colgate Sensitive Pro-Relief, and Crest Pro-Health. It’s important to note that while these toothpastes can help manage the symptoms of gum recession, they do not treat the underlying cause. It is essential to talk to your dentist about the most appropriate treatment plan for your condition.

Treatments: How Do They Fix Receding Gums?

Treatment for receding gums depends on the cause and severity of the condition.
Here are the nonsurgical and surgical treatments for gum recession:

Nonsurgical Treatments

  • Topical Antibiotics: If the gum recession is caused by gum disease, your dentist may prescribe topical antibiotics to help fight the infection. These can come in the form of mouth rinses, gels, or oral antibiotics.
  • Dental Bonding: When the tooth root is exposed due to gum recession, your dentist may apply a tooth-colored resin to the affected area to protect the root from decay.
  • Orthodontics: Sometimes, misaligned teeth or a misaligned bite can contribute to gum recession. In such cases, braces or aligners may be used to move the teeth into the proper position, which can alleviate tension on the gums.
  • Scaling and Root Planing: This is a deep cleaning procedure where the dentist will clean below the gum line to remove tartar and plaque from the root surfaces. This can help the gums to reattach to the teeth.

Gum Recession Surgery

  • Gum Grafting: In this procedure, tissue is taken from the palate or another source and stitched over the area of gum recession. This can help to cover exposed roots, reduce sensitivity, and improve the appearance of the smile.
  • Pedicle Grafting: Instead of taking tissue from the palate, this procedure involves creating a flap of tissue from an area adjacent to the recession, and using it to cover the exposed roots.
  • AlloDerm Regenerative Tissue Matrix: This involves using donated human tissue that has been processed to remove cells, which is then used as a graft material instead of palatal tissue.
  • Pinhole Surgical Technique (PST): This is a minimally invasive technique where a small hole is made in the gum tissue, and special tools are used to loosen the tissue and guide it over the receded part of the tooth.

How Long Does It Take to Recover from Gum Grafting Surgery?

Recovery from gum grafting surgery usually takes a few weeks. Patients are generally able to return to work within one to two days following the procedure. However, it’s important to eat soft foods and avoid vigorous physical activity for a week or two. It is also crucial to follow the dentist’s post-operative care instructions closely.

Diagnosing Gum Recession: How is Gum Recession Diagnosed?

Diagnosing gum recession typically involves a visit to the dentist.
During a dental examination, the dentist will likely:

  • Examine Your Gums: The dentist will look for any signs of inflammation, notching, or changes in gum color.
  • Measure Gum Pockets: The dentist may use a periodontal probe to measure the depth of pockets around the tooth. In healthy gums, the pockets should be between 1 to 3 millimeters deep. Deeper pockets often indicate gum disease and recession.
  • Review Dental History: The dentist may ask about your dental history, any symptoms, and lifestyle factors like tobacco use or brushing habits.
  • Dental X-rays: X-rays may be taken to evaluate the bone levels around the teeth.

Early diagnosis of gum recession is important, as the treatment and prognosis are more favorable when the condition is caught early. In the next section of the article, we will discuss the treatment options for gum recession, preventive measures, and how to manage the condition effectively.

What Can I Expect If I Have Gum Recession?

If you have gum recession, you might experience several symptoms and consequences. Sensitivity to hot or cold foods and beverages is common, as the root surface, which is not as hard as enamel, gets exposed. You may also notice that your teeth look longer than usual, or you might feel a notch near the gum line. Over time, if gum recession is not addressed, it can lead to the loss of supporting bone structure, and in severe cases, tooth loss. With proper care and early intervention, the negative effects of gum recession can be minimized.

Is Gum Recession Curable?

Gum recession itself is not reversible since the gum tissue that has receded cannot grow back on its own. However, the condition can be managed and treated to prevent further recession and protect the exposed tooth root. The choice of treatment depends on the cause and severity of the recession. Nonsurgical treatments such as scaling and root planing or surgical options like gum grafts can be used to treat and manage gum recession effectively.

Complications of Receding Gums

Gum recession should not be ignored, as it can lead to various complications:

  • Sensitivity: As the gum tissue recedes, it exposes the roots of the teeth, which are not covered by hard enamel. This can lead to increased sensitivity to hot and cold, making eating and drinking certain foods and beverages uncomfortable.
  • Increased Risk of Decay: The exposed roots are more susceptible to decay. Since roots don’t have the protective enamel layer that the crowns of your teeth do, they can decay more easily.
  • Aesthetic Concerns: Gum recession can affect the appearance of your smile. The exposed tooth roots may appear longer, leading to a “long in the tooth” appearance, which is often associated with aging.
  • Damage to the Supporting Bone and Tissue: Gum recession can lead to damage to the supporting bone and soft tissue around the teeth. This can cause further gum recession and even tooth loss if not treated.
  • Tooth Loosening or Loss: As the gums recede, the support structure for the teeth can be compromised. This can lead to loosening of the teeth or, in severe cases, tooth loss.
  • Increased Plaque Accumulation: The exposed roots might be more prone to plaque and tartar buildup, which can further the recession and also contribute to cavities and gum disease.
  • Difficulty with Oral Hygiene: If gum recession becomes severe, it can make routine oral hygiene more challenging. The exposure of the roots may make brushing and flossing painful and less effective, leading to other dental problems.
  • Infection: The gaps or “pockets” that can form between the teeth and gums can trap bacteria, leading to infections. If left untreated, this can become a serious issue that affects overall dental health.

In any case, early detection and treatment by a dental professional can prevent many of these complications and promote overall oral health.

How Can I Stop Receding Gums?

Stopping or slowing down receding gums often involves a combination of professional dental care and changes to your daily oral care routine.
Here’s a general guide to what you might consider doing if you’re concerned about receding gums:

  • Visit Your Dentist Regularly: Regular dental check-ups and cleanings can catch and address gum recession in its early stages. Your dentist can identify the underlying cause and recommend appropriate treatment.
  • Use a Soft-Bristled Toothbrush: Hard or aggressive brushing can contribute to gum recession. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and gently brush your teeth using a circular motion.
  • Adopt Proper Brushing Technique: Brush at a 45-degree angle to the gums, and make sure to brush all surfaces of your teeth. Consider asking your dentist to demonstrate the most effective brushing technique.
  • Floss Carefully: Daily flossing is essential for gum health, but be gentle to avoid cutting or damaging the gums.
  • Avoid Tobacco Products: Smoking and chewing tobacco can contribute to gum recession. Quitting these habits can be beneficial for your gums and overall health.
  • Eat a Balanced Diet: Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals can support overall gum health.
  • Consider a Night Guard: If you grind or clench your teeth at night (bruxism), this can contribute to gum recession. Your dentist might recommend a night guard to protect your teeth and gums.
  • Avoid Piercings in the Lip or Tongue: These can irritate the gum tissue and lead to recession.
  • Treat Gum Disease: If gum disease is the underlying cause of the recession, treating it may require a deep cleaning procedure called scaling and root planing, or more advanced treatments. Consult with a dental professional to understand your treatment options.
  • Follow Your Dentist’s Recommendations: Depending on the cause and severity of your gum recession, your dentist may recommend specific treatments or surgeries to correct the issue. Follow their advice for the best results.
  • Monitor Changes: Keep an eye on your gums, and if you notice further recession or other changes, make an appointment with your dentist. Early intervention is key to preventing more serious problems.

How Can I Prevent Gum Recession?

Prevention of gum recession involves maintaining good oral hygiene and avoiding behaviors that can contribute to gum problems.
Here are some preventive measures:

  • Brush Gently: Using a soft-bristled toothbrush and not brushing too hard can help to prevent gum damage.
  • Regular Dental Cleanings: Professional cleanings are essential for preventing gum disease, which is a common cause of gum recession.
  • Wear a Mouthguard: If you grind your teeth, a mouthguard can help to protect your teeth and gums.
  • Avoid Tobacco Products: Smoking and using other tobacco products are associated with gum recession.
  • Eat a Balanced Diet: Consuming a diet that’s good for your teeth and gums can help to prevent gum problems.
  • Use a Toothpaste for Gum Health: Some toothpaste is specifically formulated to enhance gum health.

Remember that regular dental check-ups are vital as the dentist can catch early signs of gum recession and provide appropriate advice and treatment.

Can Receding Gums Grow Back?

Once the gum tissue has receded, it does not grow back naturally. However, there are treatments that can help restore the gum line. One common procedure is gum grafting. During gum graft surgery, tissue is taken from another part of the mouth and it is then stitched into place over the area of recession. This procedure can help to reduce further recession, protect the root from decay, and lessen sensitivity.

When Should I See My Healthcare Provider?

It is advisable to see your dentist if you notice any of the following signs or symptoms:

  • Receding gums making your teeth appear longer
  • Increased sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet substances
  • Red, swollen, or tender gums
  • Bleeding when you brush or floss
  • Loose teeth
  • Persistent bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth

Even if you do not notice any symptoms, regular dental check-ups are essential for early detection and prevention of gum recession.

What Questions Should I Ask My Healthcare Provider?

When consulting your healthcare provider regarding gum recession, consider asking the following questions:

  • What is the cause of my gum recession?
  • What treatments are available for my condition?
  • What are the risks and benefits of each treatment option?
  • Will I need surgery? If so, what will the procedure entail?
  • What can I do at home to manage my condition?
  • How can I prevent further gum recession?
  • Do you have any recommendations for toothpaste or mouthwashes that might help?
  • How often should I come in for check-ups to monitor this condition?

Bottom Line

Gum recession is a common dental issue that can lead to tooth sensitivity and, if left untreated, more serious oral health problems. While the gum tissue does not grow back on its own, there are various treatment options available to manage the condition and prevent further recession. Maintaining good oral hygiene, having regular dental check-ups, and addressing the issue early are key to preventing serious complications related to gum recession. If you have concerns about gum recession, it is essential to consult with a dentist for proper evaluation and treatment recommendations.

This article is complete and was published on June 16, 2023, and last updated on August 25, 2023.

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