Healthy gums fit snugly around the visible part, or the "crown," of the teeth. Gum recession occurs when the gums pull away or recede, exposing the roots below.
Unlike the crown of the tooth, the roots do not have a protective enamel coating. This makes the exposed roots sensitive and prone to decay.
Once the gum tissue has receded from the teeth, it cannot grow back. However, some treatments can help restore gum tissue around the teeth.
This article outlines the various treatments for receding gums. We also provide tips on how to slow and stop its progression.
There are several different factors that can cause the gums to recede, including:
This inflammation occurs due to an accumulation of bacterial deposits called plaque.
Factors that may cause or contribute to periodontal disease include:
- poor oral hygiene
- crooked teeth
- damaged or faulty fillings
- bridges or partial dentures that no longer fit
- a genetic predisposition
- hormonal changes due to pregnancy or oral contraceptives
- medications that cause dry mouth
- certain immune disorders
- smoking or the use of any tobacco product
There are two stages of periodontal disease:
Gingivitis causes gum redness, swelling, and sometimes bleeding. Without treatment, gingivitis may lead to periodontitis.
Periodontitis is the later stage of periodontal disease and can cause the gums to recede.
As the gum and connective tissues pull away from the tooth, a pocket forms between the tooth and gum, which begins to accumulate bacteria. Over time, the bacteria cause further inflammation.
If the gums recede too much, it may lead to bone loss, which can cause teeth to loosen or fall out.
Forceful or incorrect brushing
Regular brushing is essential for maintaining good oral hygiene. However, using an incorrect brushing technique could actually contribute to receding gums.
The gingival margin is the part of the gum that comes into contact with the crown of the tooth. Brushing incorrectly or too hard can damage the gingival margin, possibly triggering gum inflammation and recession.
Incorrect brushing factors that can trigger gum recession include:
- applying too much pressure
- using a hard or medium bristled toothbrush
- brushing the teeth in a broad, horizontal motion
Teeth grinding and clenching
Some people grind their top and bottom teeth together while sleeping.
The motion of teeth grinding puts intense pressure on the gums, which can cause them to recede over time.
Teeth grinding can also cause teeth to become loose in their sockets. Grinding creates deep pockets between the tooth and the gum, where bacteria can collect. These bacteria trigger gum inflammation, which can make gum recession worse.
Sustaining direct trauma to the gum tissue may cause the gums to recede in that area. Such injuries may occur in the following contexts:
- during a fall or other accident
- during dental procedures
- while wearing ill fitting partial dentures
- while playing contact sports
The treatment for receding gums depends on the underlying cause. The following treatments can help reattach or restore gum tissue around the teeth:
Scaling and root planing
Scaling and root planing are some of the first treatments for receding gums that a dentist may recommend.
These procedures remove plaque and tartar from below the gumline, where regular brushing cannot reach.
Root planing removes plaque and tartar specifically from the roots of teeth. Afterward, a dentist will use special instruments to smooth the roots, which helps the gums reattach to the tooth.
Gum graft surgery
A dentist may recommend gum graft surgery (GGS) if a person's gums have severely receded.
During GGS, a surgeon will take a small piece of gum tissue from elsewhere in the mouth and use it to cover the exposed tooth roots.
GGS helps prevent bone loss and the gums from receding farther. It can also protect the previously exposed tooth roots from decay.
Pinhole surgical technique
Pinhole surgical technique (PST) is a relatively new treatment for mild to moderate receding gums.
PST is a minimally invasive procedure that involves making a tiny hole in the gum tissue above the exposed tooth root.
A dentist will insert a special tool into the hole to separate the gum from the tooth, then they will stretch and reposition the gum back over the exposed tooth root.
The tips below can help slow or stop the progression of receding gums:
Practice good oral hygiene
The following oral hygiene tips can help:
- flossing between the teeth at least once per day
- using a fluoride toothpaste
- brushing the teeth twice per day using a soft bristled toothbrush
- using an antiseptic mouthwash to reduce bacteria and flush out debris
- choosing a size and shape of toothbrush that allows access to all parts of the mouth
- replacing toothbrushes at least every 2–4 months
- attending regular dental appointments
Use the correct brushing technique
Adopting the correct brushing technique can help prevent the gums from receding.
The American Dental Association provide the following guidelines:
- Place the toothbrush against the gums at a 45 degree angle.
- Applying gentle pressure, sweep the toothbrush back and forth using small, tight strokes.
- Brush the outer and inner surfaces, as well as the chewing surfaces, of the teeth.
- When cleaning the inner surfaces of the front teeth, hold the toothbrush vertically.
- Brush the teeth for 2 minutes in total.
People can also ask their dentist for tips on modifying this technique to managing their receded gums.
Wear a mouthguard
Wearing a mouthguard at night can help prevent gum recession due to teeth grinding. Mouthguards create an even pressure across the jaw and act as a physical barrier to separate the top and bottom teeth.
Mouthguards are available from most pharmacies. A dentist can also make a customized mouthguard, which will provide a better fit.
Replace ill fitting dentures
Partial dentures that were once a good fit can become incompatible with the mouth over time. This can happen for several reasons, including:
- the bone and gum ridges shrinking over time
- differences in jaw alignment
- general wear and tear of the partial dentures
Ill fitting partial dentures can rub and irritate the gums, causing the gums to recede around healthy teeth. People can prevent this by replacing partial dentures as needed.
Visit the dentist regularly
Attending regular dental checkups is vital for detecting the early stages of gum recession.
Checkups also enable the dentist to identify and replace any faulty fillings or ill fitting partial dentures, which can contribute to receding gums.
Once the gums have receded, they cannot grow back. However, some treatments can reattach and restore gum tissue around the teeth.
Maintaining good oral hygiene and attending regular dental checkups can help prevent, slow, or stop gum recession.
People should talk to their dentist for tailored advice on preventing and treating receding gums.