Are your gums suffering a recession?

Mother smiling with child

When someone smiles at you, what’s the first thing you see? Their teeth? Their eyes? Their body language?

You probably don’t notice their gums. But gums can’t be overlooked when it comes to oral health. Keeping them in good shape with twice-daily brushing and daily flossing is key to healthy teeth, a healthy mouth, and even a healthy body.1

What are receding gums?

Think of a houseplant. If you were to take soil away from its roots, what would happen? Sooner or later, the roots would be exposed to air. They could no longer get the water and nutrients they need. Eventually, the plant would become weak, its roots would fall apart, and the plant would die.

Gum recession works much the same way. Also called “receding gums,” it’s a process where gum tissue surrounding the teeth shrinks back or wears away. As this happens, the lower parts and roots of the teeth are uncovered. Eventually, gums can shrink so much that tooth roots are almost completely exposed. This robs them of nutrients and leaves them open to attack by bacteria.

Left untreated, receding gums can lead to tooth loss. Worse, the bone and tissue of the mouth and jaw can be damaged. Then, bacteria in the mouth can even travel to other parts of the body such as the heart and lungs.1

What leads to them?

A lot of things can play a part in receding gums. Here are a few:

  • Oral infection or disease (periodontitis)
  • Genetics
  • Brushing teeth too hard
  • Poor or not enough dental care
  • Hormonal changes (menopause, pregnancy)
  • Tobacco use
  • Grinding or clenching the teeth (“bruxism”)
  • Crooked teeth, or poorly aligned “bite”
  • Piercings on the lips or tongue
  • Accidents or trauma
  • Reduced immunity due to leukemia, HIV/AIDS, or chemotherapy
  • Diabetes
  • Aging
  • Poor nutrition
  • Certain medications
  • Drug abuse
  • Dental work like crowns or bridges that don’t fit properly2

With this many factors, it’s no wonder receding gums are a common problem.

How do I know if my gums are receding?

Often, gums recede very slowly, sometimes over years. So it pays to keep an eye on your gums. Make a habit of looking at your teeth in a mirror. Do your teeth seem like they’re getting longer? Do the spaces between them look bigger than they used to be, especially at the bottoms of your teeth?

Try running a finger over your teeth. In a case of receding gums, you can often feel a notch where your gumline used to be.3

Sensitivity is a very common sign gums are receding. If your teeth feel more sensitive to hot and cold foods or liquids, see your dentist.

Very early warnings

Because disease called periodontitis often leads to gum recession, The Mayo Clinic offers these early warning signs:

  • Swollen gums
  • Bright red or purplish gums
  • Gums that feel tender to the touch
  • Pus between your teeth and gums
  • A bad taste in your mouth
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite down on something
  • Loose teeth
  • Bad breath
  • New spaces appearing between your teeth
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold4

Treatments for receding gums

There’ve been big advances in treating gum recession. If you think you might have a problem, the smartest thing you can do is see a dentist right away.

In many cases, the first line of treatment is simply to remove what’s causing the problem. Here are some things your dentist may suggest:

  • Improve your dental care
  • Stop smoking or using tobacco products
  • Make sure you’re eating right
  • Brush your teeth with a very soft toothbrush at least twice a day
  • Floss gently and daily
  • Remove piercings that can rub against the gums and teeth
  • See your dentist or periodontist (a specialist in oral disease) regularly5

If receding gums don’t respond, your dentist may recommend surgery. There are a number of options. The most popular are “gum-tissue grafts.” In these surgeries, small amounts of healthy tissue are taken from another place, like the roof of your mouth, and attached to the receding areas.6

So see your dentist, and take care of your gums. They’re the foundation of a healthy smile that can last the rest of your life.

Additional sources not cited or linked to above:


2, 3

4, 5, 6

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