Receding Gums

Written by Kristeen Cherney | Published on May 6, 2015
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on May 6, 2015

Overview

Receding gums are a condition in which your gums pull back from the tooth surface, exposing the root surfaces of your teeth. It’s just one form of gum (periodontal) disease. This is a serious consequence of poor oral health, which may lead to tooth loss. There are a variety of treatments available, depending on the severity of tissue loss. The earlier the diagnosis and treatment, the better the outcome.

Causes and Risk Factors

The California Dental Association (CDA) estimates that three out of every four adults has some form of periodontal disease. This includes receding gums.

Periodontal disease is a progressed form of gingivitis. It first starts off with a buildup of bacteria and plaque within the gums and the teeth. Over time, stuck-on plaque damages the gums and causes them to fall back from the teeth. In severe cases, pockets form between the teeth and gums. This creates a breeding ground for even more bacteria and plaque to form.

Receding gums may be caused by a number of factors, including:

  • aggressive brushing over the long term
  • hardened plaque buildup (tartar)
  • smoking
  • hormonal changes in women
  • family history of gum disease
  • diabetes
  • HIV/AIDS

Certain medications that cause dry mouth can also increase your risk for receding gums. Dry mouth means your mouth has less saliva than it should. Without adequate saliva, the tissues in your mouth can become vulnerable to bacterial infections and injuries.

According to the CDA, receding gums are most common in adults 40 years of age and older. For this reason, it is often misconceived as a normal sign of aging. Also, more men than women develop receding gums.

Symptoms

Symptoms of receding gums include:

  • bleeding after brushing or flossing
  • red, swollen gums
  • bad breath
  • pain at the gum line
  • visibly shrinking gums
  • exposed tooth roots
  • loose teeth

Diagnosis and Treatment

Receding gums and other forms of periodontal disease are diagnosed by a dentist. A physical examination can indicate such issues. A probe may also be used to measure gum pockets. A probe is a process that uses a small, painless ruler. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, normal pocket sizes range between 1 to 3 millimeters. Anything larger is a sign of gum disease.

A diagnosis of receding gums may warrant a referral to a periodontist. This type of dental specialist can determine the best course of treatment to save gum tissues and your teeth. First, if an infection is found in the gums, antibiotics may be prescribed.

Other medications may also be used to treat the underlying problem that is causing gum recession. Options include:

  • topical antibiotic gel
  • antiseptic chips
  • anti-microbial mouthwash
  • enzyme suppressants

Surgery may be used in the worst cases of receding gums. There are generally two options: flap surgery and grafting. Flap surgery is a deep tissue cleaning used if other treatments fail. It gets rid of bacteria and tartar buildup within the gums. In order to perform this surgery, a periodontist lifts back the gums and then puts them back in place when the procedure is over. Sometimes the teeth appear even longer after flap surgery because the gums fit more closely around them.

In grafting, the goal is to resuscitate either gum tissues or the bones. During the procedure, the periodontist places either a synthetic particle or a piece of bone or tissue to help the gums grow back. It’s important to note that this process cannot be successful over the long term without proper oral health care.

Complications

The CDA estimates that periodontal diseases such as receding gums are responsible for about 70 percent of adult tooth loss. Once there is not enough gum tissue to hold tooth roots in place, the teeth are vulnerable to falling out. In some instances, multiple loose teeth are removed by the dentist before they fall out.

Advanced cases of receding gums will likely require surgery to prevent further damage.

Preventing Receding Gums

Perhaps one of the best tools for preventing receding gums is to see a dentist for regular cleanings and checkups. Even if you don’t experience any symptoms, a dentist can identify early signs of gum disease. You can also help prevent gum problems by practicing smart oral health habits.

While regular flossing and brushing removes bacteria, food particles, and plaque, tartar may only be removed with a dental cleaning. Since tartar can contribute to gum disease and receding gums, this is why biannual cleanings are so vital in preventing these types of complications.

Outlook

The outlook for early stages of gum disease can be good — but only if the problem is treated early. You also don’t have to wait for a dentist to detect signs of receding gums. If something in your mouth doesn’t look or feel right, give your dentist a call right away. You may be able to help treat gingivitis before it progresses into receding gums.

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