If you notice increased gum or tooth sensitivity, a “longer” looking tooth or exposed root, or pockets between your gum and tooth, you may be experiencing gum recession. This common dental problem is when the gum tissue is worn or pushed back to reveal more of the tooth or root. This often occurs gradually and is sometimes unnoticeable.
What Causes Gum Recession?
Most commonly, gum recession is a result of poor dental care that can lead to a handful of complications. You may be at increased risk for gum recession if you’ve experienced the following:
- Periodontal disease, also known as gum disease
- Excessive tooth brushing
- Poor dental care (not enough flossing, brushing, or rinsing can lead to tartar buildup which can push gums back)
- Hormone changes (especially in women, during pregnancy or menopause)
- Chewing or smoking tobacco
- Grinding, clenching, or clicking your teeth
- Crooked teeth or an improper bite – if the teeth aren’t aligned, it puts added stress on the gums and bone, which can cause recession
Generally, gum recession is gradual and can be treated by making the necessary changes to your dental hygiene, like learning to brush and floss more regularly. However, receding gums can lead to more severe dental health issues, such as:
- Bacteria and infection (caused by bacteria buildup in pockets created by receding gums)
- Damaged jaw or support tissue
- Extra-sensitive teeth or gums
When diagnosed in its early stages, gum recession often doesn’t cause other health problems and doesn’t need to be treated; simply changing your dental routine and following your dentist’s instruction can prevent further gum recession. However, if your gums have receded severely, or if you’re experiencing dangerous complications like infections or damaged tissue, your doctor may recommend a surgical procedure to repair your gums.
The most minor surgical procedure some dentists recommend involves cleaning the bacteria out from under the infected gum. Your periodontist will provide local anesthesia and fold back the damaged gum tissue, remove the bacteria, and then secure the gum tissue back in place over the root. This allows the gum to heal naturally without increased risk of infection.
Sometimes, a more drastic measure is needed to treat heavy gum recession. “Regeneration” of lost bone or tissue is performed using a tissue graft or a tissue-stimulating protein, which encourages your body’s natural replenishment or tissue to that area. Your periodontist will provide a tiny graft or proteins that encourage your gums to grow back, covering the exposed root of your tooth. In other cases, your doctor may perform a soft tissue graft, in which a flap of skin is cut from the roof of the mouth, where connective tissue is removed and used to cover the receding gum, encouraging natural growth. This tissue is generally tougher than your gums, which helps prevent future gum recession. The flap is then sewn back to the top of your mouth.
Gum surgeries to treat gum recession are typically performed with local anesthetic and require only minor recovery with over-the-counter painkillers. In most cases, a successful gum graft will prevent the area from receding in the future because the grafted skin is hardier than the rest of your gums.
Preventing Gum Recession
Good oral hygiene and regular dental checkups are the best ways to prevent gum recession; however, making other health changes can also help prevent your gums from receding unnecessarily.
- Quit smoking
- Maintain a balanced diet
- Visit the dentist regularly to monitor your dental health
- Brush and floss regularly, and don’t brush or floss too hard
- Consider using a mouth guard or retainer while you sleep if you tend to grind or clench your teeth