What is it?
Gum recession is the process by which the gum line retracts leaving the root of the tooth it is intended to protect exposed. This can lead to a whole host of problems such as sensitivity or even unstable teeth depending on the severity of the problem. Sometimes the problem is caused by disease or infection in the mouth but this is not always the case. There can be many other reasons for gum recession such as over-enthusiastic brushing and it can even be hereditary. We will look in more detail at causes and symptoms later along with possible treatments for the problem.
Gum recession is most common in people over the age of forty. Nevertheless, it can begin much younger and it would be more accurate to say that gum recession is most commonly identified in people over the age of forty. The problem with gum recession is that it is a very difficult condition to spot. It develops slowly over time and for this reason people do not notice the gradual change in the appearance of their gum line. It may be that gum recession occurs at a much younger age but it is only when the problem has made a significant impact on the gum line that it starts to cause any reason for concern.
When gum recession is in the early stages it may be that you do not experience any symptoms because there has not been enough of the tooth root exposed to cause any problems. However, when recession becomes significant enough you may notice some of the following symptoms:
- Sensitivity " the root of the tooth is more sensitive than the visible part of the tooth and therefore you may experience sensitivity when eating certain foods.
- You may experience cavities below the gum line
- The space between your teeth may appear to grow. This is not the case but the loss of gum tissue between the teeth may give this impression.
- The appearance of your teeth may change, i.e. they may appear longer as the root of the tooth becomes visible
- You may be able to feel a ridge on the tooth near to the gum line
- There may be a colour difference where the newly exposed part of the tooth is whiter than the rest of it.
These are all common symptoms when gum recession is caused by factors that do not involve a disease or infection in the mouth. However, if disease is the cause then you may experience the following, much nastier symptoms:
- Inflamed and sometimes painful gums
- Bleeding when you brush or floss your teeth
- Severe bad breath
- Loose teeth
If you experience these symptoms then you should seek immediate advice from a dentist because it is most likely that there is a much bigger problem going on and it cannot be solved without professional attention.
So what about the reasons why you might be experiencing these problems? Gum recession can be the result of a number of things, some preventable as it may be down to your doing, and some you can do absolutely nothing about; sometimes it is a completely unavoidable genetic issue.
Here are some of the possible causes of gum recession:
- Overaggressive brushing " if you brush your teeth in an aggressive manner or with a hard toothbrush then you could cause damage to the enamel around the gum line causing the gum tissue to recede
- Inadequate brushing and flossing " this will lead to a build up of bacteria that may cause infection that will eat away at the bone and surrounding gum tissue
- Grinding of the teeth
- Eating disorders such as bulimia where excessive vomiting leads to a high volume of bacteria in the mouth
- Smoking and chewing tobacco which can irritate the gum line
- Abnormal tooth position, i.e. overcrowding or misalignments
- You may have simply inherited thin, fragile or insufficient gum tissue
- Sensitivity to certain chemicals in toothpastes, particularly Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
Either (causes that are themselves caused by many different factors, some hereditary, some not) :
- Orthodontic treatment " forced movement of teeth may cause retraction of gum tissue surrounding those teeth
- Periodontal gum disease or gingivitis
Naturally, with so many different possibilities for the cause of your gum recession it is important to identify the cause in your case before you undergo treatment.
In cases where the cause is on your behalf then, as long as the damage is not advanced, addressing your behavior may be enough to solve the problem. If over aggressive brushing is the cause then speaking to your dentist about the correct technique for brushing and then acting accordingly may be helpful. If your dental hygiene routine is not sufficient and this is leading to plaque build up then taking more time to clean your teeth properly may solve the issue.
Sometimes minor dental procedures may be required to ease the problem causing the recession, such as: scaling and root planing when the problem is caused by excessive plaque build up; or possibly some orthodontic work if this is causing the gums to recede.
In the most severe cases of gum recession, where the receding gums are causing major problems such as tooth instability and even loss, or maybe the poor aesthetic quality is a problem, there is a surgical procedure that can correct gum recession. The procedure is called gum grafting and involves using tissue from other parts of your mouth such as the roof, or even donated tissue in some cases, and repositioning it in places where the recession has taken place. This procedure is carried out under local anesthetic and after surgery the gums will take around a month to heal. Once the gums are healed you will be required to go for a follow-up check and depending on the results, additional shaping may be required to make the gum grafts look as natural as possible. Sometimes, though, additional work is not needed.
The most important thing to remember however is that the sooner it is identified, the less damage the problem will cause and when the problem is identified in the early stages, it takes very little to correct. Therefore, regular check-ups at the dentist are essential if you want to keep your mouth looking and feeling healthy for a long time.