Receding Gums (Gingival Recession)

Overview

Receding gums or, gingival recession, is a condition where soft tissue or gums around the necks of your teeth shrink away from biting surfaces of your teeth. Gingival recession can be seen on a single tooth or on several teeth, in different areas of your mouth or throughout your entire mouth.

Causes of receding gums

  1. Incorrect tooth position: When a tooth is out of alignment and sits outwardly, away from the inside of your mouth, the bone and gum tissue is thinner than that which is over your teeth that are in alignment. This condition has much to do with two issues:
    • How your teeth grow into your mouth in relation to the space available at the time of emergence. This is why a dentist may recommend a child have an “orthodontic consult” by a dentist who has specialized in straightening teeth. A consult may be recommended as a preventative measure if your general dentist can see that there may not enough room for the tooth to grow into alignment.
    • Your genetic makeup also plays a role in the texture, thickness, and overall ability of your gum tissue to keep your tooth covered. If your tissue is thin and fragile, it will recede more easily than if it is thicker in nature. We all have genetics that determine the color, texture, and thickness of our skin. The inside of your mouth is simply skin with a greater blood supply (thus the pink color).
  2. Clenching and Grinding/ Bruxism: Severe clenching and grinding of teeth can cause gingival fibers (the fibers that hold your gum tissue tight to your tooth) to stretch. If the habit becomes chronic, the fibers can become overly stretched and break which will cause gum tissue to recede. If a tooth is out of alignment and receives a greater than average stress, tissue will thin and tears easily causing recession to happen faster.
  3. Brushing too hard: You may feel that in order to make your teeth clean, a hard toothbrush and/or aggressive brushing is necessary. Excessively hard brushing can contribute to causing gums to recede. When brushing your teeth, always use a soft toothbrush. Since plaque is soft; its removal can be completely accomplished with a soft brush. A hard brush cannot bend and get into the small spaces and indentations around your teeth and can abrade away the soft gum tissue collar around the necks of your teeth. Tooth position and the thickness and texture of your gums, along with the aggressiveness of your brushing, will determine how fast your gums will recede. See Brushing and Flossing.
  4. Time or aging: As we age, our gum tissue naturally recedes a little. As with all other soft tissue changes in the body; the skin in the mouth is no exception. Preventing all of the above will go a long way toward keeping the receding of gums to a minimum.

Correction of receding gums

  1. Orthodontic treatment (see Braces), or having your teeth aligned properly, will help reduce the possibility of gums receding.
  2. Wearing a night guard to reduce the stress on your teeth while you are sleeping and awareness of the habit while awake will help reduce the possibility of gum recession. See TMJ/TMD.
  3. Learn and practice the appropriate method for cleaning your teeth at home. See Brushing and Flossing for more details.
  4. Soft tissue grafting, done by a gum surgeon (see Periodontist), is an outstanding method of repairing areas where your gums have receded.