Causes of Gum Recession
The most common cause of gum recession is poor oral hygiene that leads to periodontal disease. Failing to brush your teeth properly and regularly can result in a build-up of bacteria-laden plaque on your teeth. Besides causing cavities, plaque can also infect your gums.
The medical name for the gums is gingivae, ridges of tissue surrounding the base of each tooth. This is why inflammation of the gums is called gingivitis – the first phase of periodontal (gum) disease – and instances of receding gums are known as gingival recession.
Teeth are embedded in bone, and your gums hold them in place. With healthy gums, the tissue fits snugly around your teeth. In cases of gum disease, this tissue can recede – pull away from the teeth.
If gum recession is allowed to progress, the tissue and bone that support your teeth can be destroyed, exposing the tooth roots. This puts your teeth at risk of infection and decay, and they may eventually fall out or have to be extracted.
Treatment during the early stages of gum recession can reverse the process. Procedures to combat gum recession include deep cleaning, medications and tissue grafts.
Gum recession is a common problem but it develops gradually so you may not realize your gums are receding until the condition has become advanced.
Am I at Risk of Gum Recession?
Apart from poor oral hygiene that results in periodontitis, other factors can increase the danger of gum recession1, including:
- Smoking. Smoking damages tooth enamel and makes your mouth dry. This creates an ideal breeding ground for bacteria that can infect your gums. Smoking may also lessen the likelihood of successful treatment for gum recession.
- Diabetes. If you have diabetes, you’re at greater risk of infections, and gum disease is a common complication of diabetes.
- Impaired immune system. Susceptibility to gum infection can also be the result of a weakened immune system through conditions such as HIV or AIDS, and treatments like chemotherapy.
- Malnutrition. A healthy, balanced diet with sufficient nutrients such as vitamins A and C is essential for oral health.
- Aging. As we get older, our gums become weaker. Nearly 90 percent of people over 65 have gum recession affecting at least one tooth.
- Genetics. Weak gum tissue can be hereditary, making you more prone to gum recession. Studies show that almost a third of the population may be predisposed to gum disease.
- Injury. Gum tissue may recede as a result of physical trauma to a tooth or teeth.
Other causes of gum recession
Women may be at increased risk of gum recession when hormone levels vary during pregnancy and menopause. These fluctuations can make the gums more sensitive and susceptible to infection. The same applies to puberty in girls.
You may also be more vulnerable to gum recession if you take medications that can cause dry mouth (xerostomia). These medicines include some antihistamines and antidepressants.
Orthodontic problems such as a misaligned bite or crooked teeth can increase the risk of gum recession, as can tongue and lips piercings, which can rub against the gums to the extent that tissue is worn away.
Stress can also be a factor in gum recession. If you’re tense, there’s a tendency to clench your jaw and grind your teeth, which can contribute to gum recession.
Symptoms of Gum Recession
Although many people with receding gums remain unaware of the condition, you may notice your teeth have become sensitive to hot and cold foods and drinks – due to exposed tooth roots.
Other symptoms of gum recession include:
- Change in appearance. Your teeth may appear longer, with more space between them.
- Cavities beneath the gum line, indicating tooth root decay.
- Loose teeth.
- Persistent bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth.
- Pus around the teeth and gums.
Your gums may also redden or bleed and/or become swollen and sore.
Is Gum Recession Preventable?
Since the main cause of gum recession is inadequate oral healthcare at home, the condition is in many cases preventable. The cornerstone of a good oral hygiene routine is brushing and flossing. You should:
- Brush your teeth for two minutes at least twice a day, holding your brush at a 45-degree angle pointing toward the gums.
- Avoid brushing your teeth aggressively – it can erode tooth enamel and cause gum recession.
- Use a fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled brush.
- Make sure you brush all surfaces of your teeth.
- Brush your tongue, or use a tongue scraper.
- Floss daily, following the curve of your teeth to avoid damaging your gums.
- Use an antibacterial mouthwash.
In addition to keeping up a sound routine of brushing and flossing, you can also help to protect yourself against gum recession by:
- Seeing your dentist every six months for a check-up. The American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) says all adults should also get an annual comprehensive periodontal evaluation (CPE) to detect problems such as gum recession.
- Quitting smoking. Toxins in cigarettes attack the gums, making it easier for bacteria to spread. Smoking also weakens your body’s immune system, which compromises your ability to fight off gum infection.
- Maintaining a healthy diet. What you eat plays a major role in your oral and general health. Replace sugar-rich and starchy foods with fruits, vegetables, and dairy produce. A well-balanced diet will also go a long way toward avoiding excessive weight gain. Obese individuals are three times more at risk of getting gum disease as people of average weight.
Treating Gum Recession
The best way to prevent gum recession is to look after your mouth. This includes regular brushing and flossing and visiting your dentist at least twice a year. If you have mild gum recession, your dentist may want to see you more frequently to make sure the condition doesn’t get worse.
In more severe cases of gum recession, specialist treatment may be needed. The dental health professionals who treat gum recession are called periodontists, who can also advise you on how to keep your gums healthy. If you have any concerns about gum recession, it’s advisable to talk to a periodontist2 sooner rather than later. This will give you the best chance of a successful outcome if treatment is necessary.