What is gum recession?
Gum recession is a form of gum disease. It happens when your gum tissue pulls away from your teeth, exposing the roots underneath. This makes your teeth more vulnerable to cavities. Your teeth can become more sensitive when brushing or when eating as well. Gum recession can be mild, moderate or severe. It may affect one tooth or multiple teeth.
Who does gum recession affect?
While gum recession can affect people of all ages, it’s most common in people over 65. You’re more likely to develop recession if you:
- Have periodontal disease.
- Had braces or other orthodontic treatment.
- Use chewing tobacco.
- Have a lip or tongue piercing.
- Brush your teeth aggressively.
How common is gum recession?
Gum recession is a common dental problem. In fact, approximately 88% of people over the age of 65 have gum recession on one or more teeth.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the symptoms of gum recession?
The most apparent sign of gum recession is tooth root exposure. Other gum recession warning signs include:
- Pain or discomfort near your gum line.
- Sensitivity to heat, cold and sweets.
- Sensitivity when brushing and flossing your teeth.
- Sensitivity during dental cleanings.
Left untreated, gum recession can lead to other serious oral health problems, such as bone loss, tooth mobility or feeling "wiggly" or even tooth loss. If you notice any of the symptoms listed above, schedule an appointment with your dentist right away.
What causes recession of gums?
Your gums may recede for a number of reasons. Gum recession causes include:
- Brushing too hard or too aggressively.
- Dental plaque or tartar buildup.
- Periodontal disease.
- Trauma or injury to your gum tissue.
- Abnormal tooth positioning (misalignment).
- Smoking or chewing tobacco use.
- Lip and tongue piercings.
Oftentimes, poor oral hygiene is a contributing factor to gum recession, but this isn’t always the case. Many people simply have a genetic predisposition to thin gum tissue.
No matter the cause of your gum recession, timely diagnosis and treatment can help prevent long-term oral health problems.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is gum recession diagnosed?
Your dentist can diagnose gum recession during a routine examination. They’ll measure the amount of gum recession on each tooth using a special instrument called a periodontal probe.
Bone loss is common in areas of gum recession. For this reason, your dentist will also measure the periodontal pockets around each tooth. Healthy pockets measure between 1 and 3 millimeters. With gingivitis, pockets measure 4 millimeters. If you have periodontal disease, your pockets will measure 5 millimeters or higher.
Management and Treatment
Can gums grow back?
Unfortunately, receding gums can’t grow back. But, you can take steps to prevent gum recession from worsening.
How can I reduce sensitivity caused by gum recession?
Many people with gum recession experience pain or sensitivity. This is because your tooth roots aren’t covered with protective enamel. They’re covered with cementum, which isn’t as strong. Your dentist can apply fluoride varnish or other desensitizing agents to reduce discomfort associated with receding gums. You can also use a desensitizing toothpaste at home. Your dental hygienist can use numbing agents to make you more comfortable during your dental cleanings as well.
What’s the best toothpaste for gum recession?
As mentioned above, desensitizing toothpaste can help ease discomfort associated with gum recession. Look for active ingredients like potassium nitrate, stannous fluoride, arginine and strontium chloride. These ingredients help calm the nerves inside your teeth. Desensitizing toothpaste is best when used long term, and it can take several weeks to start working.
How do they fix receding gums?
Gum recession treatment largely depends on what caused the condition. Mild cases of gum recession may be improved with nonsurgical treatments, such as topical antibiotics, dental bonding or orthodontics. In most instances, however, gum recession surgery is needed to fully correct the problem.
Nonsurgical treatments for gum recession may include:
- Topical antibiotics. If gum recession is from periodontal disease, your dentist or hygienist will work with you on how to be more effective in cleaning your teeth. Scaling and root planing (deep dental cleaning) can be done under local anesthesia to get rid of harmful bacteria that cause gum disease that are deep under the gum line. Occasionally, your periodontist (gum disease specialist) may recommend inserting an antibiotic directly under your gums to help treat gum disease.
- Dental bonding. Sometimes your dentist can camouflage the area of recession with tooth-colored composite resin. This covers your exposed tooth root, making it less noticeable and more comfortable.
- Orthodontics. If a tooth is crooked, tipped or rotated, it can cause gum recession. In these cases, braces could be an option. Once the tooth is moved into proper alignment, the gum margin may correct itself over time.
Gum recession surgery
Gum graft surgery is the most predictable and long-lasting treatment option for gum recession. Typically, a periodontist (gum specialist) performs this procedure.
During this surgery, a gum graft is used to replace your missing gum tissue. The graft usually is taken from the roof of your mouth but occasionally can come from sterilized human donor tissue.
Once the gum graft is in the proper position, your surgeon stitches it into place. There are several different types of gum grafting procedures. Your surgeon can help determine which one is right for your situation. Today’s gum grafting procedures are minimally invasive.
How long does it take to recover from gum grafting surgery?
Your recovery time will depend on several factors, including how many teeth were treated, where the gum graft came from and what type of grafting procedure was done. In most cases, people who undergo gum recession surgery feel back to normal in about two weeks.
Your surgeon will provide you with detailed postoperative instructions. You should follow these instructions closely to foster a comfortable, successful recovery.
Can I prevent gum recession?
Gum recession can’t always be prevented, especially if you are genetically predisposed to thin gum tissue. However, you can significantly reduce your risk of infection-related gum recession by practicing proper teeth and gum care. For example:
- Brush your teeth thoroughly twice every day.
- Floss once daily.
- Use an antimicrobial mouthwash twice daily.
- Follow your dentist’s recommendation for teeth cleanings. (Many people can maintain healthy gums with six-month cleanings, but some may need more frequent visits.)
- Use a soft-bristled toothbrush.
- Don’t smoke or use chewing tobacco.
See your dentist if you notice any signs of gum recession.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have gum recession?
If your dentist notices that you have mild gum recession, they may try some nonsurgical treatments, such as topical antibiotics or dental bonding. If you have moderate to severe gum recession, they’ll likely refer you to a periodontist or oral surgeon for a gum grafting consultation.
Is gum recession curable?
Gum recession can’t be cured. But, it can be successfully managed with proper treatment and care.
When should I see my healthcare provider?
If you notice that your teeth roots are more visible than they used to be — or if you have increased teeth sensitivity — you could have gum recession. It’s important to call your dentist or periodontist at the first sign of problems. The sooner gum recession is detected and treated, the better chance you have of establishing optimal oral health.
What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?
Learning all you can about gum recession can help you avoid common problems and restore your oral health. Here are some questions to ask your dentist:
- How advanced is my gum recession?
- Are there any nonsurgical options that could work for me?
- If not, what type of gum grafting surgery do you recommend?
- What are the chances of my gum recession coming back?
- How often should I have my teeth cleaned?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Left untreated, gum recession can wreak havoc on your oral health. Even if you don’t develop pain or sensitivity, it’s important to have an evaluation with your dentist if your gums are receding. They can tell you how serious the problem is, and what steps you can take to protect your oral health.
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