Gum Recession: Overview, Causes & Treatment

What is Gum Recession?

Gum recession, also called receding gums, is when your gums begin to pull away from your teeth. As a result, the roots of your teeth become exposed, which typically causes sensitivity to hot and cold substances. This is because root surfaces do not have hard enamel covering them like the crowns of teeth do, which makes them more sensitive.

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. Lastly, if you have gum recession, your teeth and teeth roots are also more prone to decay.

What Causes Receding Gums?

Receding gums can be caused by a variety of factors. Although, the primary cause of this condition is due to periodontal disease, which is the advanced form of gum disease. Other causes include incorrect brushing, 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. When the gums become severely irritated, they separate from the teeth. As a result, deep spaces called “periodontal pockets” form. Then plaque begins to move into the pockets, which 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 occurs.

Improper Brushing

Brushing your teeth too hard or using a hard-bristled toothbrush 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.

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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. For example, if a tooth becomes loose, it may begin to pull away from the gums and expose the root.


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. In addition, partial dentures are attached to a metal plate that is secured in the mouth using clasps and hooks that attach to your real teeth. Although, 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.


Some people are born with thin, weak, and/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. In addition, 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. In particular, 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 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.

Common Treatment Options

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 root planing

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. 

receding gums

Gum Grafts

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 where your gums receded. Once the gum grafts heal, the roots are no longer exposed and the teeth are protected against decay.


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.

“Periodontitis.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 6 Mar. 2018,

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

Updated on: June 29, 2020
Alyssa Hill
Medically Reviewed: December 9, 2019
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Lara Coseo