What causes receding gums? Can you reverse it?

So you’re at the dentist for your six month cleaning and checkup, the hygienist is doing their thing, poking around your teeth and recording numbers. You’ve got the super cool glasses on and your nose is probably itching. She finishes polishing your teeth and the doctor comes in for a look see. The good news, no cavities. Yea! The bad news, your gums are receding. Not exactly what you were expecting to hear.

Now you’re just a little concerned and jump online to do some research on this whole receding gum thing. Well you’ve landed on the right page. We’ll get down to the nitty gritty on gum recession. What it is, how it happened and what you can do about it.

First Off, What Is Gum Recession?

Gum recession is where the soft pink tissue, or gingiva, that surrounds the teeth pulls back from your tooth exposing the cementum, or the tooth’s root. Not to fret, this happens to everyone, even in the healthiest of mouths.

What Caused My Gums to Recede?

Gum Disease

Gum disease is a bacterial infection of the gums that damages both the gum tissue and the bone that holds your teeth in place. Gum disease, also referred to as gingivitis, is the leading cause of receding gums. About a third of American adults and about half of adults in the UK have some degree of gum disease. Gingivitis can be caused from plaque build up around the gum tissue, certain autoimmune diseases, medications that cause dry mouth, smoking and some people are genetically predisposed to gum disease.

Genetics

Some of us are just more susceptible to receding gums regardless of how well we care for our teeth.

Aggressive Brushing

Brushing your teeth using too much pressure or a hard bristled toothbrush can irritate and inflame your gums causing your gums to recede. You don’t want to flatten out your toothbrush when brushing. A soft bristled brush and gentle pressure is all that is needed.

Poor Dental Hygiene

Not brushing, flossing, and rinsing with an antibacterial mouthwash allows plaque to harden into tartar. Tartar is the stuff that the hygienist scrapes off of your teeth and wipes on your “bib” when she is cleaning your teeth. Allowing the tartar to build up wedges the gums away from the tooth causing the gums to become inflamed. Removing the tartar build up leaves a space, or pocket, between the gums and the tooth and creates an ideal environment for bacterial growth and gum disease. Either way your gums do not like tartar, so up your hygiene game to keep tartar at bay.

Hormonal Changes

If you are a woman, the hormonal fluctuations encountered during puberty, menses, pregnancy and menopause can cause your gum tissue to become more sensitive and lead to gum recession as well.

Tobacco Use

Whether it’s cigarettes or chewing tobacco, those who partake are more than likely going to have sticky plaque on their teeth which is difficult to remove and can exacerbate gum recession. Remember, plaque left on your teeth turns into tartar and creates those nasty bacteria breeding pockets between your teeth and gums.

Stress

Stress in our lives often causes us to grind or clench our teeth. Clenching and grinding puts excessive pressure on our teeth and the surrounding bone, irritating and inflaming the ligaments that hold the teeth in their sockets. This irritation can cause gums to become more sensitive and to recede.

An Abnormal Bite

When our teeth do not occlude, or come together simultaneously, too much pressure can be placed on the gums and bone in the areas of the mouth where the teeth contact first when biting down. This excessive force irritates and inflames the gums causing gum recession.

Gaps Between Teeth

Gaps, or spaces, can form between our teeth. Either from our natural dentition, shifting of teeth from the prior removal of natural teeth or previous gum recession. Food can become lodged in these spaces causing not only halitosis, but irritation and inflammation to the gums and underlying bone. This inflammation causes your gums to recede farther.

Ornamental Piercing of the Lip or Tongue

Regardless of how smooth the jewelry, it can rub the gums causing irritation, inflammation and gum recession.

Trauma

An injury to the mouth, from a blow to the face to a cut from a tortilla chip, can cause irritation, inflammation, infection and gum recession as well.

What happens if I ignore receding gums?

Well, the problem won’t just go away. At minimum some preventative measures must be taken to keep the situation from worsening.

When gum recession occurs spaces form between the teeth and gum line, that’s what the hygienist was measuring when she was poking around in your mouth. These spaces create an environment for 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 can I do about gum receding?

So you would like to keep your teeth and ignoring the problem didn’t have a desirable outcome? There are three treatment levels that a dentist will consider when treating your receding gums. Level I is the least invasive and Level III is the most invasive.

Level I Least Invasive

Level I treatment is prescribed at the first sign of gum recession. This would include maintaining good oral hygiene and sticking to your biannual cleaning appointments.

Depending on the source of your gum irritation you should also consider correcting the offending behaviors for optimal gum health. Brush and floss correctly twice a day with a soft bristle toothbrush. If your gum recession is caused by clenching or grinding, speak with your dentist about an intraoral appliance such as a mouth guard to reduce the strain placed on your teeth when clenching and grinding your teeth. If you use tobacco, do your best to quit. And if you have a lip or tongue piercing, considering taking it out.

Level II Moderately Invasive

When caught early mild gum recession may be able to be treated by your dentist. In this case you will have a tooth scaling and root planing, or deep cleaning in the affected area. This procedure will remove any plaque and tartar build up below the level of the gums. The dentist will also prescribe an antibiotic to stave off any lingering bacteria in the area.

Level III Most Invasive

Level III treatment for receding gums involves surgery and is therefore the most invasive. This is the last resort and will be necessary if the spaces, or pockets, between the gum and the tooth are too deep or there is extensive bone loss. There are three different surgical options; open flap scaling and planing, regeneration and soft tissue graft. Your dentist will decide on the best option for you.

Open Flap Scaling and Planing

If your doctor decides that open flap scaling and root planing is the best option to treat your receding gums, the dentist will make small incisions at the affected areas in order to fold back the gum tissue and give him better access to the bacteria causing the inflammation. He will then remove the bacteria from the pockets, and re secure the gum tissue flush with the root of your tooth. This procedure minimizes the depth of the pockets between the gum and the tooth.

Tissue Regeneration

If the bone supporting your teeth has been diminished, the dentist may consider a procedure to regenerate, or replace, the lost bone and tissue. The same procedure used in open flap scaling and planing will be used with one additional step. Before the dentist reattaches the gum tissue to your tooth he will place a regenerative material in the affected area to aid your body in naturally replacing the missing bone and gum tissue.

Soft Tissue Graft

In this procedure soft tissue is removed from either an adjacent tooth where there is sufficient gum tissue or the palate, or roof of your mouth. This tissue is then stitched to the gum tissue at the site of gum recession.

Although being told that you have receding gums probably wasn’t the highlight of your day, at least there are measures that you can take to correct existing gum recession and stop further damage. Now that you have the low down on receding gums, follow up with your dentist to schedule his suggested treatment plan. Those chompers have to last you the rest of your life and a beautiful smile is your best asset.