A receding gum line, or gingival recession, occurs when the margin of the tissue that surrounds the teeth wears away toward the end of the root, exposing more of the tooth. When gum recession occurs, the delicate root of the tooth becomes exposed leading to increased sensitivity, and possible root decay. These exposed areas can also be more difficult or uncomfortable to clean, allowing disease-causing bacteria and plaque to build up. If left untreated, these areas of gum loss can eventually affect the supporting ligament and bone structure of the teeth leading to tooth movement and promoting periodontal disease.
Gum recession is a common dental problem and one that may be both prevented and treated. Most people do not know they have gum recession because it occurs gradually.
There are a number of factors that can cause your gums to recede, including:
- Poor dental hygiene — Inadequate brushing and flossing make it easy for plaque to turn into calculus (tartar), a hard substance that can only be removed by a professional dental cleaning. This can build up on and in between the teeth, causing gum recession through irritation of the surrounding tissue.
- Periodontal diseases — These are bacterial gum infections that destroy gum tissue and the supporting bones that hold your teeth in place. Gum disease is the main cause of gum recession and is usually a result of poor dental hygiene.
- Aggressive tooth brushing — If you brush your teeth too hard or the wrong way this can cause mechanical trauma to the delicate gums. Using a soft toothbrush and avoiding a “scrub brush” technique will help prevent this. Some people who feel like their teeth aren’t clean without an aggressive approach may find an electric toothbrush helpful. Most have a built in sensor to let you know you are scrubbing too hard.
- Smoking — Tobacco users are more likely to have sticky plaque on their teeth that is difficult to remove, which can cause gum recession. The harsh chemicals in the smoke also lead to a thickened gingival tissue overall with less blood supply to promote healing if it is injured.
- Grinding and clenching your teeth — Clenching or grinding your teeth can affect gums by flexing the tooth at the point where it meets the bone. This can affect the root surface and change the attachment point for the gum tissue.
- Diabetes — People with diabetes are around three times more likely to develop gum disease than those without diabetes. This effect is seen more in uncontrolled diabetics.
- Body piercing of the lip or tongue — Jewellery can rub the gums and irritate them to the point that gum tissue is worn away.
But, you may ask, how will I know if my gums are beginning to recede? The first sign of gum recession is usually tooth sensitivity, although this on its own may not indicate a problem. Take notice if your teeth begin to appear longer than normal, as a larger part of the crown will be visible if gums are receding. If you notice a change in your tooth’s colour, or if spaces between your teeth appear to grow (because they are no longer filled by gums), or if you feel a notch in your tooth at the gum line, you may be experiencing gum recession. If the gum recession is caused by gingivitis, you may also experience puffy, red or swollen gums, as well as bleeding of the gums when brushing or flossing. Bad breath (halitosis) may also be present.
Mild gum recession may be treated by your dentist with a deep cleaning of the affected area, removing plaque and tartar that has built up on the teeth and root surfaces below the gum line and smoothing the exposed root area to make it more difficult for bacteria to attach. If your gum recession cannot be treated with deep cleaning because of the excess loss of bone and pockets that are too deep, gum surgery may be required to repair the damage caused by gum recession.
The best way to prevent gum recession is to take good care of your mouth. Gums don’t grow back, so prevention is the best approach. Brush and floss your teeth every day and see your dentist and hygienist regularly. If you have gum recession, your dentist may want to see you more often. Always use a soft-bristled toothbrush and ask your hygienist to show you the proper way to brush your teeth. Be sure also to monitor any changes that may occur in your mouth. If teeth grinding is a problem be sure to talk to one of the qualified dentists at North Burnaby Dental Group about how to correct the problem. Catching gum recession in its early stages is the best way to halt the progression of this condition.