Gum recession is a condition I get asked about a lot. It’s a concern of many patients. Sometimes a “toothy” looking smile can be due to gum recession. When gums recede they pull away from the tooth and expose some of the root. This can appear unattractive but can also be a discomfort. Gum disease can certainly play a huge role in causing gum recession, but another cause is simply genetic predisposition. Whether you have thick or thin gum tissue makes a difference. Thinner gum tissue is more susceptible to wear as you age whereas thicker gum tissue is much less vulnerable to inflammation and trauma. Incidentally, I have wondered if there could also be a link to canker sores and thinner gum tissue, but that is a topic for another time. The role of gums forming a tight collar around the tooth’s enamel anyhow, is to protect the tooth’s roots and bone from a potentially traumatic area of eating and chewing foods and brushing teeth. Gums are attached to the teeth, but if compromised by disease or trauma can recede and expose the root portion of the tooth. Some patients do not realize they have gum recession and others may experience sensitivity to hot or cold.
One of the main causes of gum recession is periodontal disease (gum disease), a bacterial infection that can eventually lead to bone loss. If this occurs, small pockets are created and can attract more bacteria which can lead to further gum and bone damage. Poor dental hygiene is a major reason for gum disease. A lack of regular brushing, flossing and routine dental cleanings often leads to sticky plaque, containing toxins and further leads to infection and inflammation. The plaque, if left untreated, can then form tartar. This can initiate a whole host of problems, potentially affecting overall health.
Another major cause of gum recession is actually, believe it or not, aggressive brushing. Brushing teeth vigorously in a back and forth motion can put excessive wear on the gums. I have also had a few patients who had this problem with electric toothbrushes. While it isn’t the case for all who use an electric toothbrush, it can occur. I recommend a soft-bristled brush and remind patients just as our hygienists do, to brush in a gentle circular motion.
Gum recession can also be the result of a tooth emerging in the wrong place without adequate bone support or insufficient amounts of gum tissue. This could be a natural occurrence or due to orthodontics.
Whatever the cause for gum recession may be, there are ways of treating it. After examining a patient’s gums, sometimes it can simply be a matter of altering the oral hygiene routine. The biggest factor in determining how to proceed is in whether the gum recession is continuing to progress or is stable. It is imperative to have the mouth healthy and free from inflammation to avoid recurrence. For some patients, we may do a procedure of scaling and root planning to remove sticky plaque, tartar and reduce or eliminate inflammation. Afterwards, we might use a tooth-colored restorative composite for a small area. There are also various types of gum grafting for more extensive cases of gum recession. The main thing is that there are appropriate solutions for each patient.