If your teeth are becoming sensitive, or you notice in the mirror that they look longer than normal, chances are your gums are receding.
Gum, or gingival, recession is a common oral health issue. A recent US study found that 38% of people aged 30-39 have some degree of gum recession, with the figure rising to 90% for people aged 80-90.
Do not ignore receding gums – they are not merely unsightly. They are most often a sign of gum disease, and might lead to more serious problems, including tooth loss.
By taking swift action and seeing a dentist, you can prevent further complications. Even if you already have serious gum recession, a specialist dentist may be able to repair your gums and help you keep your teeth healthy and functional for life.
Your gums are soft tissue which act as a sealant between the tooth and the sockets in the jawbone. When this gum tissue pulls back or wears away, it exposes the roots of your teeth. This is gum, or gingival, recession.
Unlike the rest of your tooth, the root is not protected with enamel, so is more vulnerable to decay. Furthermore, when pockets are created between the gum and the tooth, harmful bacteria can build up. If left untreated, this can lead to infection which may damage your tooth or underlying bone, potentially leading to tooth loss.
The condition builds up over time. It can begin in your teens or even younger, though you may not spot it at first. It is most commonly seen in people aged over 40.
Symptoms include tooth sensitivity; a ridge at the bottom of the tooth; spaces between your teeth where the gum is absent; and cavities in your roots. If your gum recession is caused by disease, you may notice bad breath and a nasty taste in your mouth. You may also spot blood when you brush your teeth.
If you see any of these signs, make an appointment with a Smileo dental expert as soon as possible.
Broadly speaking, your gums may recede for two reasons: infection, or wear and tear. The good news is that in both cases, the most common causes can be prevented or limited.
Gum disease or gingivitis: This is by far the most usual cause. Bacterial infection attacks gums, causing them to recede over time. It can develop if you don’t take good enough care of your teeth and gums, eg not brushing them regularly.
Tooth grinding or clenching (bruxism): This puts pressure on your teeth, jaw and gum tissue, wearing them away. You may grind your teeth when you are stressed or when you are asleep, and you may not even know you are doing it. This is thought to be the second most common reason for gum recession.
Brushing or flossing too vigorously or in the wrong way: This has been linked with gum damage – although be careful not to go to the other extreme and neglect your oral hygiene.
Misaligned teeth: If your teeth are crowded, misaligned, or stick out, they can place pressure on your gums and cause them to recede. They can also be harder to keep clean.
Natural gum recession: Ever heard the phrase ‘long in the tooth’? As you get older, your gums may shrink naturally – even if you take good care of them.
Pregnancy and menopause: It is thought that hormone changes can make women’s gums more vulnerable to infection.
Smoking or other tobacco products: Not only does smoking damage your lungs and your heart, but it also causes plaque to build up on your teeth. This can cause infection, making your gums recede.
Diabetes: High glucose levels in your mouth make it an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, leading to gum disease.
Lip or tongue piercings: These can rub away at the gum, irritating it and gradually wearing away the tissue.
Genetics: You may have inherited thin or fragile gum tissue, prone to infection. If your parents had receding gums, sadly you may suffer too.
Trauma: This can be a sudden or severe injury to your teeth and gums, or simply a long-term bad habit such as poking your teeth with a pen.
Badly fitting dental work: Crowns, dentures and bridgework, if not fitted correctly, can place stress on the gums.
You may need treatment to tackle the infection that is causing your gum recession. Your dentist will be able to advise, or refer you to a periodontist (gum specialist).
If your problem is only mild, your dentist may carry out deep cleaning to get rid of plaque and tartar build-up. This is also called tooth scaling, and is a quick and routine treatment.
Your dentist may also advise root planing, also called debridement. This is a deep clean that gets right under the gums. The root area can also be smoothed to make it harder for bacteria to build up again. You will be given a local anaesthetic to numb the area, but might experience some pain for a couple of days afterwards.
You are also likely to need a course of antibiotics to clear up any infection.
In most cases, you will quickly recover good oral health. Remember to maintain this with a good oral hygiene routine and regular dental check-ups.
In some cases, the condition may have progressed too far and you may need gum surgery. This is likely to be carried out by a periodontist surgeon.
For all the following procedures, you will be given local anaesthesia and possibly an additional sedative. Afterwards, you will be given advice on how to clean the site. You may experience some pain for a few days, which can be managed with medicines such as ibuprofen.
Gum Grafting: Gum grafting is a term that covers a few different types of procedure. Two of them – connective tissue grafting and free gingival grafting – involve taking tissue from the roof of your mouth (your palate) and stitching it over your exposed roots. A pedicle graft is when you have enough tissue near your teeth that your dental surgeon can take to use for grafting instead.
Pocket depth reduction: If pockets have formed between your gums and your teeth, they may become infected. Your periodontist will fold back the affected tissue, clean out the harmful bacteria, and then place the gum tissue back securely over the root of your tooth. This is also called open flap scaling and root planing.
Bone regeneration: Bone regeneration is needed when the underlying bone structures that hold your teeth in place have been damaged. Your periodontist will carry out pocket depth reduction, but also apply a material to regenerate your bone such as graft tissue, a membrane, or a protein to stimulate tissue growth.
After surgery, it is important to adopt a good oral hygiene routine to prevent the problems recurring.
There is a great deal of action you can take to keep your gums and teeth healthy.
While gum disease is very common, you can protect yourself against it and give yourself the best chance of keeping your teeth and gums in good health for life.
Smileo has dental and periodontal experts across the UK who can give you advice on the best course of action for you.
Just type in your postcode or city below to find your nearest expert and start your journey to excellent oral health.
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