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Receding gums refer to when gums wear away or become pushed back, exposing the roots of the teeth. Receding gums become a health concern, leaving the teeth at risk of decay, infection, and loss.

Gums might also recede around a tooth if it is in an abnormal position.

When people start treatment at an early stage, they may be able to stop or reverse the process of gum recession.

Various treatments are available if the recession is severe and causing symptoms, such as tooth sensitivity, pain, or infection. The options include deep cleaning, treating infections, and tissue grafts.

Receding gums is a common condition, but people often do not realize that their gums are receding until they reach a symptomatic later stage.

A dentist treating a patient for receding gumsShare on Pinterest
Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

Most cases of mild gum recession do not need treatment. Dentists may advise on prevention and offer to monitor the gums. Teaching someone how to use a thorough but gentle brushing technique is an effective early intervention.

For people who do require treatment, a dentist may suggest one or more options, including:

  • Desensitizing agents, varnishes, and dentin bonding agents: These products aim to reduce the sensitivity of the exposed tooth root. Desensitizing agents treat the nerve symptoms and help preserve oral hygiene by easing the brushing of sensitive teeth.
  • Composite restoration: A dentist uses tooth-colored composite resins to cover the surface of the root. They can also close the gaps between teeth, as shown in these before-and-after pictures from the British Dental Journal.
  • Pink porcelain or composite: This material is the same pink color as the gums. Dentists can use it to fill the gaps where the gums have receded.
  • Removable gum veneers: These are usually acrylic or silicone, and they artificially replace the large area of missing gum tissue due to recession.
  • Orthodontics: These include treatments that slowly move the position of the teeth over a long period. This repositioning can correct the gum margin and make it easier to keep the teeth clean.
  • Surgery: A dental surgeon will graft tissue from another site in the mouth. This tissue heals over the gum recession. A person would usually only need this to treat severely receding gums.

Poor oral hygiene and periodontal disease contribute to gingival recession. However, receding gums can also occur in people with good oral hygiene.

The primary causes of gum recession include:

  • physical wear or low grade trauma to the gums over several years
  • inflammation of the tissues due to chronic inflammatory periodontal disease
  • periodontal treatments, such as surgery
  • trauma to the teeth

A person may inadvertently cause physical wear of the gums through vigorous tooth brushing or the use of a toothbrush with hard bristles. Excessive brushing may cause receding gums even when dental hygiene might otherwise be good.

When plaque builds up on the teeth, it can cause the following dental conditions:

  • Inflamed gums: This condition, known as gingivitis, can lead to periodontitis.
  • Periodontitis: This disease creates space between the gums and teeth, as well as the loss of connective fibers and bone around the tooth roots. This can lead to receding gums and bone loss.

Periodontal disease is a common cause of gum recession. Periodontal disease causes the loss of the supporting bone and tissue around a tooth through an inflammatory reaction. The gum recession tends to affect all the teeth in a similar way.

Some people may also be prone to receding gums because of hereditary factors, such as the position of their teeth and the thickness of their gums.

People may be more prone to the inflammatory causes of receding gums due to more delicate tissue in their gums. Thinner gum tissue may make it more likely that plaque will cause inflammation.

Other physical factors that can push the gums back include lip or tongue piercings, misaligned teeth, and damage from dental treatment.

In some cases, years of brushing with hard bristles and over-brushing can lead to gum recession. It often occurs in people over the age of 40 years with healthy gums because of this reason.

A 2017 study showed that several factors can increase a person’s risk of developing periodontal disease, which can then lead to gum loss. They include:

  • smoking
  • alcohol consumption
  • poor oral hygiene
  • genetic prediposition

Other risk factors for developing gum disease that can lead to gum recession include:

  • living with diabetes
  • medications that cause dry mouth
  • certain diseases, such as HIV
  • hormonal changes in females

Some people with receding gums may have no concerns about them early on, and others might not be aware that their gums are receding.

However, some individuals with receding gums may experience the following:

  • concerns about their changing appearance, as the teeth appear longer and the spaces between the teeth increase
  • fear of losing teeth
  • sensitivity to cold and heat due to exposed tooth roots

Receding gums can be a symptom of underlying dental problems, including gum disease, and they can increase the risk of tooth decay and tooth loss. Gum disease can also lead to bad breath and bleeding gums.

A person can take some steps to help prevent receding gums.

Firstly, they should avoid brushing their teeth too hard or vigorously or using a hard-bristled toothbrush. Instead, they should use a soft-bristled toothbrush and avoid over-brushing, applying gentle strokes.

Plaque buildup and tartar can lead to periodontal disease, so maintaining good oral hygiene can also help prevent receding gums.

A person should also consider stopping the use of tobacco products and reducing their consumption of alcohol, if applicable.

People who have concerns about their teeth or receding gums should visit their dentist to discuss their worries.

People can choose from a wide selection of soft toothbrushes online.

The gums, or gingivae, consist of pink tissue in the mouth that meets the base of the teeth. There is one gum or gingiva per row of teeth.

The gingival tissue is dense. It contains many blood vessels beneath a moist surface, known as a mucous membrane. The gingival tissue connects with the rest of the mouth lining but is pink instead of shiny red.

The gums firmly attach to the jawbone and tightly cover each tooth up to the neck. When intact, the gums cover the roots of the teeth and protect them from decay, loss, and infection.

Gingival recession refers to a loss of tissue in the gum. It exposes the fragile roots of the teeth to bacteria and plaque and can lead to decay.

Read the article in Spanish.