When you examine your teeth in the mirror, do you see just the healthy crowns breaking through the gums? Or do your teeth seem elongated, stretching down almost to the bottom of your jaw?
If you can see substantially more of your teeth than just the crowns, you may suffer from receding gums, or gingival recession. In this condition, your gums pull away from your teeth, exposing more and more of the root.
Several common problems can cause receding gums, from brushing too hard to chewing tobacco to gum disease. Whatever the cause, though, your receding gums need to be treated as soon as possible. Read below to find out what causes gum recession, why it needs quick treatment, and what you can do to prevent future gum recession.
Periodontal disease, or gum disease, is the leading cause of receding gums. Some people's genes predispose them towards periodontal disease, but it usually develops due to a lack of dental hygiene.
Over time, if you don't brush, floss, and visit your dentist, plaque produced by bacteria builds up on your teeth. When it isn't removed, plaque hardens into tartar, which can easily be removed by a professional dental hygienist.
Eventually, plaque- and tartar-causing bacteria inflame your gums. If you have an early form of gum disease called gingivitis, you can usually treat it with proper brushing, flossing, and dental cleanings. But if you don't treat gingivitis, it develops into periodontitis, where your gums pull away from your teeth and allow pockets of bacteria to develop close to the root.
While your body tries to fight the infection, it inadvertently weakens the connective tissue and bone that hold your teeth in place. You won't just lose your gums to recession—you'll also lose much of your bone, tissue, and eventually even your teeth to the infection.
While periodontal disease leads to most cases of gum recession, several external factors can cause problems with your gum as well, including:
- Poor tooth brushing habits. If you grip your toothbrush with your entire hand, brush straight across your teeth, or use a hard-bristled tooth brush, you place too much pressure on your gums, which wears them down.
- Tobacco usage. Smoking and chewing tobacco cause plaque to adhere to your teeth, which causes infection. Tobacco also minimizes the amount of oxygen in the blood, which prevents blood from flowing to your gums, which prevents gums from healing themselves of infection.
- Tongue and lip piercings. If you already run your tongue along your teeth, your new tongue piercing makes this unconscious habit a larger problem: the jewelry can irritate your gums and start to wear them away.
Some people have conditions or other factors that predispose them to develop gum problems:
- Genetics. If your parents or other family members have frequent gum infections, you might be more likely to acquire them as well.
- Hormones. Women undergoing menopause, pregnancy, or puberty experience hormone changes that can make their gums more sensitive and prone to infection.
- Tooth grinding. If you unconsciously grind your teeth at night or if you habitually grind them during the day when you get stressed or frustrated, you put too much pressure on your teeth. This causes the gums to pull away.
- Tooth positioning. If you have abnormally positioned teeth (for instance, a crowded mouth), you might be more likely to experience gum disease and receding gums.
Whatever the cause, you should deal with gum recession immediately. The longer your roots are exposed, the higher your chances of developing bacterial pockets that result in infection, pain, bone destruction, and tooth loss.
If you only have a mild case of gum recession, your dentist will likely clean your teeth, remove any bacteria, and possibly prescribe you an antibiotic. He or she will also give you tips to prevent your gums from receding further, including switching to a soft-bristled brush, changing your brushing habits, or using a mouth guard to protect your teeth if you grind them.
Moderate to Severe Cases
In more severe cases, your dentist or oral surgeon might recommend one of the following surgical treatments:
- Bone regeneration. Your surgeon grafts regenerative tissue onto your gums, which stimulates your body to regenerate lost connective tissue and bone.
- Connective tissue graft. Your surgeon removes tissue from the roof of your mouth and places it over your exposed roots.
- Pocket depth reduction. Your surgeon removes harmful pockets of bacteria from beneath your gums.
Fortunately, preventing gum recession doesn't require a lot of effort. Brush and floss your teeth twice a day without brushing or flossing too hard. Switch to a soft-bristled tooth brush and ask your dentist about proper brushing and flossing techniques. Eat a balanced diet with few sugars and sodas to keep your teeth clean and minimize harmful bacteria. If you smoke, quit as soon as possible. If you grind your teeth, invest in a custom mouth guard.
Finally, visit your dentist every six months for your regular check-up. No one should skip their semi-annual cleaning, but if you're pregnant or have a family history of gum disease, tell your dentist, and follow his or her advice for your situation.
Talk to your Edmonton dentist at Azarko Dental Group today for more tips on how to prevent and treat receding gums!