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Receding gums

Receding gums, where more of the lower part of teeth becomes exposed, can be a sign of gum disease.

Left untreated, the supporting tissue and bone structures of the teeth can be damaged, and teeth may be lost.

Gum recession is a common dental problem. Most people do not know they have gum recession because it occurs gradually. The first sign of gum recession is usually tooth sensitivity, or you may notice a tooth looks longer than normal. Often a notch can be felt at the top of the tooth, just below the gum line.

With regular dental check-ups, the dentist can also look for the signs of receding gums and can recommend ways of preventing the problem becoming worse.

Why do gums recede?

There are a number of factors that can cause your gums to recede, including:

  • Periodontal diseases. These are bacterial gum infections that destroy gum tissue and supporting bone that hold your teeth in place. Gum disease is the main cause of gum recession.
  • Your genes. Some people may be more susceptible to gum disease. In fact, studies show that 30% of the population may be predisposed to gum disease, regardless of how well they care for their teeth.
  • Aggressive tooth brushing. If you brush your teeth too hard or the wrong way, it can cause the enamel on your teeth to wear away and your gums to recede.
  • Insufficient dental care. Inadequate brushing and flossing makes 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.
  • Hormonal changes. Fluctuations in female hormone levels during a woman's lifetime, such as in puberty, pregnancy and menopause, can make gums more sensitive and more vulnerable to gum recession.
  • Tobacco. Tobacco users are more likely to have sticky plaque on their teeth that is difficult to remove, which can cause gum recession.
  • Grinding and clenching your teeth. Clenching or grinding your teeth can put too much force on the teeth, causing gums to recede.
  • Diabetes: People with diabetes are around three times more likely to develop gum disease than those without diabetes.
  • Crooked teeth or a misaligned bite. When teeth do not come together evenly, too much force can be placed on the gums and bone, allowing gums to recede.
  • Body piercing of the lip or tongue. Jewellery can rub the gums and irritate them to the point that gum tissue is worn away.

How is gum recession treated?

Mild gum recession may be able to be treated by your dentist or hygienist by deep cleaning the affected area. During the deep cleaning, also called tooth scaling and root planning, plaque and tartar that has built up on the teeth and root surfaces below the gum line is carefully removed and the exposed root area is smoothed to make it more difficult for bacteria to attach itself. Sometimes antibiotics will also be given to get rid of any remaining harmful bacteria.

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.

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