Understanding Gum Recession

Receding gums tend to sneak up on you. Few dental patients simply wake up one morning and notice a frighteningly long length of tooth extruding from their mouths. Instead, year after year of changing bodies and sometimes poor habits take their toll. Gaps start to form where healthy tissue once was, and cumulative health impacts slowly start to add up. But what exactly is gum recession? How many people deal with it? And what steps can you take to treat and prevent its insidious onset? 

Gum Recession: Is this a common problem? 

Gum recession occurs when the gums in your mouth gradually begin to pull away from the teeth. How common is it exactly? Well, the statistics surrounding periodontal disease provide us with a clue. Periodontal disease is the primary cause of gum recession, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported that nearly half of adults age 30 and up have some form of it. Sadly, the numbers get even worse as we age. The same study indicated that three out of four adults in their mid-sixties and older suffered from it.

Preventing gum recession

Symptoms of Receding Gums  

To quote an old film, gum recession is a bit like the Spanish Inquisition: Nobody expects it. However, unlike that infamous tribunal, gum disease doesn’t jump out and surprise you. It creeps up slowly, gradually insinuating itself. If you aren’t paying attention, small symptoms can eventually turn into gum disease. So, what are those symptoms, and how can you know if you have the start of a serious problem? Receding gums have a number of symptoms, such as: 

  • Apparent Lengthening of Teeth. Your teeth don’t continue to grow once you’ve reached adulthood, but there is a significant portion of the tooth beneath the gum line. As gum disease leads to exposed tooth roots, the teeth may appear to grow longer. 
  • Swollen Gums. Because gum disease is often accompanied by the presence of bacteria, gums can grow irritated and swollen. This can also cause them to take on a red, inflamed appearance. 
  • Blood. A concomitant symptom of swollen gums is the appearance of blood when conducting common oral hygiene tasks, such as brushing or flossing. 
  • Bad Breath. Sometimes bad breath occurs simply due to diet or poor hygiene. However, advancing gum disease can cause bacteria or yeast to grow, which will naturally cause bad breath.  
  • Pain. Nerves become exposed as gums recede, and anyone suffering from gum disease can expect common tasks to involve significant discomfort. In some advanced cases, even the simple act of breathing can cause pain.  
  • Loose Teeth. In the final stages of gum recession, the disease has advanced so far that the connecting tissue supporting the teeth — and sometimes even the bone beneath — become damaged, leading to teeth so loose that they may begin to fall out. 

Gum recession and periodontal disease diagramWhy should I be concerned about a receding gum line? 

Some might wonder if they ought to worry about gum recession given its ubiquity. The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” When gum recession occurs, deep gaps appear within your mouth. These gaps start to collect bacteria, and you can’t easily clean these new spaces by brushing or flossing. 

If left untreated, these gaps can eventually leave the root of a tooth (or many teeth) exposed, leading to discomfort, outright pain, and bone destruction. That last symptom will eventually lead to tooth loss. 

What causes receding gums?  

The causes of gum recession can be broken down into two broad categories: factors you can’t control and factors that you can control. The truth of the matter is that there are a number of reasons why you may have receding gums that you cannot modify solely through behavior. For instance, genetics play an important role with about one-third of individuals showing a hereditary predisposition. Women also can face gum recession due to hormonal fluctuations throughout life. 

That being said, many things that contribute to receding gums can be managed through one’s behavior. Failing to brush can cause the condition, as can brushing too hard. Not flossing may contribute to receding gums, and people who grit their teeth may cause damage to their gums. (One symptom of this habit is a sore jaw or frequent headaches.) And one of the greatest contributors to receding gums is the use of tobacco products. 

How to treat gum recession 

Gum recession doesn’t always hurt, which can be both a blessing and a curse. Clearly no one desires oral pain and discomfort. However, discomfort is hard to ignore, and generally the only thing many people tend to notice when they suffer from gum recession is a tooth that looks slightly longer than the others. Some may also notice a small notch or dent they can touch with their tongue. 

We will discuss treatment options further in the next section but know that severe cases of gum loss often involve gum grafts, a surgical process that requires some form of sedation. Other helpful procedures involve regenerating bone with a specialized protein and root planing the gap areas. 

Can Receding Gums Grow Back?  

When patients discover that they have receding gums, they often ask, “Do gums grow back?” The answer is yes — at least sometimes. Milder cases respond to gum recession treatments such as deep gum cleanings and antibiotics. For those who want to regrow gums naturally, studies have shown some limited support for the use of eucalyptus oil, saltwater rinses, drinking green tea, taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements, applying certain essential oils such as tea tree and thyme. However, these natural treatments can’t reverse receding gums in every instance.  

In advanced cases, how to fix receding gums can involve surgery with procedures varying in invasiveness depending on the gingival recession treatment required. This may involve pinhole surgical technique (i.e., stretching and recovering the tooth with existing gum through a minimally invasive technique), gum grafting, and bone and soft-tissue regeneration. 

How to prevent gum recession 

Like most diseases, it’s easier to prevent gum recession than to treat it. Quitting tobacco, eating a balanced diet, and brushing and flossing always help. If you tend to grit your teeth, consider purchasing a mouth guard. Finally, think about fixing any long-standing dental issues you’ve avoided. Believe it or not, a misaligned bite can also cause gum recession. 

If you’re concerned about gum recession or are looking for treatment, contact Chicago’s dental experts Westend Dental. We can help get your smile back in tip-top shape. Schedule an appointment today with Lincoln Park’s Westend Dental.