Receding gums means the gum shrinks over time exposing the lower part of the teeth.
This reveals the bottom of the teeth below the 'notch' on the tooth of the normal gum line. This part of the tooth is then exposed - and pockets in the gum can form also exposing the bone holding teeth in place and opening this up to attack and infection. Teeth can become loose or may be lost.
The first sign of receding gums may be teeth feeling more sensitive than before, and teeth looking longer.
A dentist will look for signs of receding gums and may make recommendations for treatment or extra oral health hygiene measures to help stop the recession.
The NHS says most adults have some degree of gum disease and this can lead to receding gums over time.
Gum disease, periodontal disease, gingivitis: Over time, infection attacks gum tissue and is the most common cause of receding gums and can be due to not taking enough care of teeth and gums.
Natural gum recession: Gums may shrink naturally over time despite good oral hygiene measures. The phrase 'long in the tooth' to describe being older came from gum recession, although originally this was about horses.
Brushing teeth too hard: This can damage the gums and lead to gum tissue trauma.
Hard toothbrush: Having bristles that are too firm can damage the gums.
Tooth grinding: This and clenching teeth, often due to stress, can put extra pressure on the gums.
Misaligned bite: Teeth not aligning properly can cause too much pressure on gums leading to recession.
Hormonal changes in women: Gums are sensitive to hormone changes around pregnancy and menopause.
Smoking and tobacco products: This habit damages oral health as well as the lungs. Habitual users have increased amounts of tooth plaque which can cause recession.
Diabetes: Having diabetes that is not well managed affects gum health.
Oral piercing: Lip or tongue piercings can irritate and wear away gum tissue.
How is minor gum recession treated?
Gums can recover from mild gum recession with the help of a thorough professional dental cleaning session. This may involve ultrasonic and manual tooth scaling or root planning to remove plaque and tartar and to stop it building up again.
If the gums are infected, antibiotics may be recommended.
If your gum recession has gone too far for this conservative treatment to work, gum surgery may be needed. This may need a referral to a specialist periodontist dental surgeon.
Surgical treatment for receding gums
The choice of gum surgery options will depend on individual needs, and include:
Pocket depth reduction: Pockets between the gum and teeth allow bacteria to build up. In this procedure, the gum is folded back and infected tissue removed before securing the healthy gum tissue back over the root of the tooth.
Periodontal regeneration: Gum tissue is folded back and cleaning carried out. A regenerative membrane, graft tissue or tissue-stimulating protein is then applied to encourage natural regrowth of bone and gum tissue. The gum flap is then secured over the root of the tooth again.
Soft tissue graft: Here unhealthy gum tissue is replaced with healthy tissue from elsewhere in the mouth, such as the roof of the mouth. Stitches seal the area where the graft tissue came from. In some cases, donated soft tissue from a donor bank may be used.
Pedicle graft: If there is enough gum tissue around the tooth, this is pulled over the root of the tooth and held in position with stitches.
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