Gum Recession: Overview, Causes & Treatment

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What is Gum Recession?

Gum recession, also called receding gums or gingival recession, is when your gums begin to pull away from your teeth. The roots of your teeth become exposed, which typically causes sensitivity to hot and cold substances. Tooth root surfaces do not have hard enamel covering them like the crowns of teeth do, making them more prone to sensitivity.

When your gums recede, pockets develop between your teeth and gum line. This creates space for bacteria to collect, which can lead to infection and disease. If left untreated, the tissue and supporting bone structure that forms your teeth can become damaged, leading to tooth loss.

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Depending on the severity of the condition, your gums may recede on one tooth, a few teeth, or all of your teeth. The teeth also appear longer than they actually are. If you have gum recession, your teeth and teeth roots are also more prone to decay.

Receding Gums Symptoms

Gum recession is a common dental problem, especially in adults. Because it occurs slowly over time, many people are unaware that their gum health is declining, especially if they are only experiencing the early stages of mild gum recession. Symptoms of receding gums include:

  • Tooth sensitivity
  • One or more teeth look longer (exposed tooth roots)
  • A gap, or pocket, near your gum line
  • Loose teeth

Gum recession is often an underlying symptom of gum disease (gingivitis) or advanced gum disease (periodontitis). Accompanying symptoms of gum disease may include:

  • Bad breath
  • Bleeding gums when brushing or flossing
  • Dark red gums
  • Swollen or puffy gums

What Causes Receding Gums?

A number of factors can cause receding gums. The primary cause of this condition is due to periodontal disease, which is the advanced form of gum disease.

Other causes include incorrect brushing, poor oral hygiene, poorly fitted dentures, genetics, tobacco use, eating disorders, and more.

Periodontal Disease (Advanced Gum Disease)

Gum recession is a primary indicator of periodontal disease, which is a serious oral disease that permanently damages the gums, bones, and surrounding tissues. Your gums separate from your teeth when they become severely irritated from gum disease.

Then, deep spaces called “periodontal pockets” form, and plaque begins to move into the pockets. These spaces are too deep to clean with a toothbrush.

Ultimately, the long-term buildup of plaque below the gumline results in root decay. If periodontitis is left untreated, permanent bone loss will occur.

Improper Brushing

Brushing your teeth too hard or using a toothbrush with hard bristles can result in gum recession over time. Dentists recommend brushing with an electric toothbrush or soft-bristled toothbrush to reduce the chance of damaging your gums and take good care of your teeth.

Soft-Tissue (Gum) Trauma

An injury that damages the gums, teeth, and surrounding soft tissues can result in gum recession. This includes sports injuries, car accidents, and similar injuries. If a tooth becomes loose, it may begin to pull away from the gums and expose the root.

Dentures

If you have partial dentures that do not fit properly, gum recession may develop over time. This is because partial dentures only replace the visible part of your teeth, rather than the entire dental arch.

Partial dentures are attached to a metal plate that is secured in the mouth using clasps and hooks that attach to your real teeth.

removable partial denture lower jaw

These hooks and clasps commonly irritate the gums, which can lead to inflammation and potentially gum recession.

If your gums are receding due to poorly fitted partial dentures, your dentist can adjust or remake them for you.

Genetics

Some people are born with thin, weak, or delicate gums. This makes them more prone to gum recession, gum disease, and other soft tissue infections.

Tobacco Products & Nicotine

Chewing tobacco can cause localized gum recession. Smokeless tobacco users often develop tooth decay because many chewing tobacco products are sweetened.

Nicotine can also cause gum recession, tooth decay, and dry mouth. This is because the chemical “chokes out” the soft tissues in the mouth, which eventually kills gum tissue. It also reduces the amount of saliva your mouth produces, which results in a heavier buildup of bacteria and plaque.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders negatively impact your general health and oral health. Dental erosion (loss of tooth enamel due to self-induced vomiting) and gum recession are common risk factors. Tooth stains, dental abscesses, and tooth loss can also occur.

Bruxism

Bruxism is defined as the habit of clenching and grinding the teeth, typically during sleep. Long-term teeth grinding can result in gum recession. This is because the teeth can become loose over time, which slowly exposes the roots.

bruxism

How to Stop Receding Gums From Getting Worse

If you notice any symptoms of receding gums, your first step should be to book a check-up with your dentist. They will give you a complete oral exam and possibly a deep cleaning. If you have signs of gum recession, they may refer you to a periodontist.

To prevent gum recession, or stop your gums from receding more, it's important to practice proper dental care. Brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing regularly, and using a mouthwash for gum disease is the best way to maintain healthy gums.

How to Fix Receding Gums

If your gums become unattached from the teeth, it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible. Once the gum tissue is damaged, there is no way to restore the tissue naturally without professional treatment. If the condition is left untreated, it will get worse over time.

Depending on the cause, gum recession treatment may include:

Scaling and Root Planing

Scaling and root planing is the most common treatment for periodontal disease. It is a periodontal procedure that removes plaque and calculus (tartar) above and below the gumline. This treatment also helps the gum tissues heal and reattach to the teeth. 

Gum Tissue Grafts (Gum Recession Surgery)

If you have advanced gum recession, gum grafts are typically necessary. This is a more invasive procedure that involves taking a piece of gum tissue from another place in your mouth and reattaching it to the affected area. Once the gum grafts heal, the roots are no longer exposed, and the teeth are protected against decay.

How can I fix receding gums naturally?

Gum tissue that has already been lost cannot grow back naturally. However, there are at-home tips you can practice to prevent your gum recession from getting worse.

For example, practicing proper dental care can prevent gum recession from worsening. Brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing regularly, and using a mouthwash for gum disease is the best way to maintain healthy gums.

Can receding gums grow back?

No, gum recession cannot be reversed. Your gum tissue does not regenerate like other tissues in your body. Only gum grafts can restore gum tissue.

How much does it cost to fix receding gums?

Gum grafts costs anywhere between $600 to $3000 per tooth.

What happens if you don't fix receding gums?

If gum recession is left untreated, they will continue to recede. Over time, bacteria will accumulate in the "pockets" that form between your gums and teeth. This will damage the supporting structures of your teeth, leading to tooth loss.

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Resources

Birmingham, C. Laird, and Janet Treasure. Medical Management of Eating Disorders. Cambridge University Press, 2019.

Hollins, Carole. Basic Guide to Dental Procedures. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2015.

Johnson, Jordan D. American Dental Association (ADA) Patient Education Center. http://www.ada.org/en/~/media/ADA/Publications/Files/ADA_PatientSmart_Gum_Recession

“Periodontitis.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 6 Mar. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/periodontitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20354473.

The Chairside Instructor: a Visual Guide to Case Presentations. American Dental Association, 2017.

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Updated on: November 6, 2020
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Alyssa Hill
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