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Are Your Gums Receding? Learn More About Causes and Treatments

At the risk of being obvious, our gums, also known as the gingivae, are the moist pink tissue in the mouth that meets the base of the teeth. We all have two gums - one for the upper, and one for the lower set of teeth. The gums tightly surround the teeth and are firmly attached to the jaw bone. They cover and protect the delicate roots of the teeth.

But sometimes things go wrong and your gums start to receded. Think of a houseplant. If you were to take soil away from its roots, what would happen? Sooner or later, the roots would be exposed to air. They could no longer get the water and nutrients they need. Eventually, the plant would become weak, its roots would fall apart, and the plant would die.

Gum recession works much the same way. It’s a process where the gum tissue start to pull away from the teeth, exposing the fragile, sensitive tooth roots. Eventually, gums can shrink so much that the roots are almost completely exposed. This robs them of nutrients and leaves them open to attack by bacteria, as well as makes them very sensitive.  

If left untreated, gum recession can become so severe that it is irreversible and can lead to tooth loss.

You Can See and Feel Gum Recession

The first sign of gum recession is often tooth sensitivity or sore gums. Also, if you run a finger over your gums you can often feel a notch where your gumline used to be. Another sign of receding gums is that your teeth appear longer or the spaces in between them appear bigger at the base.  Compare your gums to the pictures below.  The picture on the left shows healthy gums, and the picture on the right shows gums that are receding, with inflammation and spaces noticeable between the teeth.  Whether you feel or see the onset of gum recession, it’s time to call your dental office and schedule an appointment. 

What Causes Gum Recession?

  • Poor oral health. Periodontal, or gum, disease is the most common cause of gum recession. Periodontal disease is caused by bacteria-laden plaque at the gum line. The bacteria produce acids that damage your gums resulting in the loss of this supporting tissue around the teeth. 
  • Brushing or flossing too hard. Yes, brushing too hard is possible. Always use a toothbrush that is labeled “soft.” Be gentle on your teeth, and remember that taking care of them isn’t supposed to hurt. 
  • Genetics. Like the rest of your body, your gums’ characteristics are influenced by your genetics. 
  • Dental work. Yep - sometimes dentists don't get it right on the first try. You may have an improperly fitting crown or bridge that is impacting your gums and causing recession. 
  • Abnormal tooth positioning. If your teeth are not in alignment with one another, gum recession is more likely.
  • Grinding your teeth. Teeth grinding can cause a number of dental problems including gum issues. 
  • Trauma to gums. Your gum tissue may recede due to a traumatic injury - this can include a lip or tongue piercing that impacts your gums. 

Healthy Gums Are A Team Effort

As always, prevention is the best strategy.  The simple steps you learned in childhood -  b

rushing twice a day, daily flossing, and having twice yearly dental cleaning and exams - 

will keep your gums healthy and 

prevent gum recession.  

If recession has already started, you and your dentist need to identify and eliminate the cause.  In some cases this may be as easy as switching to a soft bristle toothbrush, correcting an improperly fitted bridge or improving your oral hygiene.  In other cases, for example, recession due to periodontal disease or trauma, your dentist may discuss some treatment options such as:

  • Desensitizing treatments: Your dentist may use varnishes or other dental products to reduce any sensitivity that may have developed in the exposed tooth root. Treating the sensitivity helps patients continue their oral hygiene routine.
  • Composite restoration: In some cases, your dentist may use tooth-colored composite resins to cover the root surface. 
  • Orthodontics: If the recession is due to misaligned teeth, orthodontic treatment which re-positions the teeth can correct the problem.
  • Deep cleaning. Your dentist or dental hygienist will use special tools to remove the plaque and tartar buildup on the roots where the gums are receding, a procedure known as root planing.
  • Gum grafting. This involves taking the patient’s own healthy gum tissue from the roof of the mouth or using a gum grafting material to replace the missing gum tissue. Your dentist may recommend you see a periodontist.

Contact us with any concerns you may have, such as tooth sensitivity, or a change in the appearance of your gums - we want to see you sooner rather than later.  We can be reached at (919) 755-3450 or schedule



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