The term 'receding gums' refers to gum tissue that has receded to the extent that the lower part of the tooth is exposed. Usually, the teeth are protected by the gum tissue, but once the gums start to recede the lower parts of the tooth become exposed and, as the gums continue to shrink, more and more of the tooth becomes exposed to damage. If the condition is not treated, it will become more advanced and the teeth may eventually come loose.
There are many different causes of gum recession. Though many people associate the condition with a natural stage of the ageing process, this is not always the case. Furthermore, although receding gums are more common amongst older people, the condition can affect people of all ages.
What are the symptoms of receding gums?
Changes to the gum tissue can occur gradually and, for this reason, it can take a long time for people to notice that their gums are shrinking. This is why it is so important to attend regular dental check-ups. Gum recession may be caused by changes to the gum tissue or a reduction in the bone tissue beneath the gums, symptoms which can easily be identified by a dentist at a routine check-up. Symptoms to look out for include:
- Sensitivity: if the lower portion of the tooth becomes exposed, you may find that you experience heightened sensitivity, especially when you eat or drink very hot or cold food and drinks. Sensitivity can cause pain ranging from very mild to severe
- Longer teeth: as the gums recede, a larger part of the teeth becomes visible and this may make the teeth appear longer
- Changes in the colour of the gums: as the gums recede, they may appear to change colour. Most often they will become red and sore
- Gapping between the teeth: as the gums recede, gaps between the teeth may appear to grow. This is because the gum tissue is unable to fill them
If you notice any symptoms of gum recession, it is important that you see your dentist as soon as possible. Receding gums are very easy to treat if the condition is diagnosed early, but if receding gums are not assessed early enough, the condition will become more advanced and may lead to irreparable damage.
Progression of symptoms
As receding gums progress, this can lead to different symptoms:
- Early stage: swollen gums, bleeding, redness and tenderness
- Advanced stage: the gums start to come away from the teeth, the teeth start to loosen and pus may develop between the teeth
- Final stage: the roots of the teeth become exposed, the teeth become loose and fall out and the gums become very sore and inflamed
Are receding gums normal?
Receding gums are a relatively common condition, but this does not mean that they should be seen as one of those things that happen to us all. This is a condition that can be prevented by good oral hygiene and a good brushing technique. If you notice any of the symptoms listed above, make sure you arrange to see your dentist. Attending regular dental check-ups will also help to reduce the risk of developing oral health problems in the first place.
What causes receding gums?
There are numerous causes of receding gums, but the most common are overzealous brushing and poor oral hygiene. Poor oral hygiene will result in build-up of bacteria and plaque, which can contribute to inflammation and infection. The foods you eat can affect the amount of bacteria in your mouth, so try to eat healthily and avoid foods that are acidic or high in sugar. These kinds of foods will increase the amount of bacteria in the mouth, causing the production of harmful plaque acids that attack the protective enamel surfaces on the teeth.
If you brush your teeth too vigorously then this can damage the gums. For those who own an electric toothbrush, do not attempt to use this in the same way you would a regular toothbrush. Electric toothbrushes are designed to do the work for you, which is why attempting to brush your teeth with an electric toothbrush in the normal manner can harm the gum tissue.
Other possible causes of receding gums include:
- Smoking: smoking increases the risk of gum disease and slows the healing process
- Pressure from bruxism (grinding or clenching the teeth)
- Piercings: tongue piercings can damage the gum tissue
- Eating disorders, especially bulimia: vomit, a very acidic substance, can erode the gum tissue, the bone and the enamel surfaces of the teeth
What kinds of treatment are available for receding gums?
If receding gums are identified early enough, then they can often be treated fairly easily. By simply identifying the cause and addressing it, your gums can be returned to normal swiftly. For example, if it is overzealous brushing that is causing the problem, your dentist will advise you to brush more gently or switch to a toothbrush with softer bristles. If there is found to be a lot of bacteria in your mouth, your dentist may talk to you about oral hygiene and suggest the use of an anti-bacterial mouthwash. If sensitive gums are the problem, your dentist may advise you to use specially formulated toothpaste for sensitive teeth.
If your condition is more advanced, your dentist may graft gum tissue from different parts of your mouth to boost the tissue in affected areas. This may be taken from the roof of the mouth.
Is it possible to prevent receding gums?
In order to minimise your risk of suffering from receding gums, you can take the following steps:
- Adopt a good oral hygiene routine: this should involve brushing the teeth twice a day for at least two minutes each time, using dental floss and rinsing with mouthwash
- See your dentist every 6-12 months for a routine check-up
- Look out for signs and symptoms and arrange to see your dentist as soon as you notice any irregular indicators
- Quit smoking
- See your dentist if you grind or clench your teeth. They will be able to offer guidance and suggest suitable treatment
- Keep an eye on your diet: try to limit the amount of sugar you eat and avoid acidic foods, especially between meals. If you do eat sugary or acidic foods, make sure you wait at least 45 minutes before brushing your teeth. This is due to the fact that plaque acid temporarily weakens the enamel surfaces of the teeth, and brushing during this time could consequently damage the enamel