Receding gums are also known as gingival recession. The
pink gum tissue normally covers the root of the tooth. This can
become exposed when the gum is pushed back or if the tooth is
in an abnormal position.
Receding gums are common and often unnoticed at an early stage.
There are many risk factors, but age is a main one – 88 percent of people older than 65 have receding
gums in at least one tooth.
The main concern with receding gums is that when the roots of
the teeth become exposed, they are at risk for decay,
infection, and loss. Treatment can stop or reverse the process
of gum recession if begun at an early stage.
If the recession is severe and the patient has symptoms such as
tooth sensitivity, pain, or infection, a variety of treatment
options are available. These include deep cleaning, medicine to
fight infections, and even tissue grafts.
What are the gums?
The gums protect the fragile tooth roots from bacteria,
plaque, and other forms of decay.
The gums are also known as the gingivae. The gingiva is the
moist pink tissue in the mouth that meets the base of the
teeth. There are two such gums – one for the upper, and one for
the lower set of teeth.
The gingiva is a dense tissue with a good supply of blood
vessels beneath a moist surface. The surface is called mucous
membrane. It is joined to the rest of the mouth lining but is
pink instead of shiny red.
The gums tightly surround the teeth up to the neck of each one
and are firmly attached to the jaw bone. The gums usually cover
the roots of the teeth, protecting them as they are more
fragile than the rest of the teeth.
Gingival recession exposes the fragile tooth roots to bacteria,
plaque, and other forms of decay.
Why do gums recede?
Poor oral hygiene and periodontal disease are linked to
gingival recession. But receding gums can happen in people with
good standards of oral hygiene, too.
Broadly, there are two causes of receding gums:
Physical wear of the gums
Inflammation of the gum tissues – this is a
reaction of the immune system
Some people are more prone to receding gums because of
inherited factors. These factors include their tooth position
and gum thickness.
Physical wear of the gums by vigorous tooth brushing or use of
hard bristles is a common cause of receding gums.
The two main causes of receding gums are physical wear and
inflammation of the gum tissue.
People with this problem otherwise have good oral hygiene. The
teeth and gums otherwise appear healthy when receding gums are
caused by over-brushing.
This type of recession often affects the left side more. This
is because most people use a toothbrush in their right hand and
so put more pressure on the left gums. The pattern also tends
to affect the side gums more than the front.
Other physical factors that push the gums back include lip
piercings, misaligned teeth, and damage caused by dental
Some people are more prone to the inflammatory causes of
receding gums. Thinner gum tissue makes inflammation caused by
plaque more likely. The gums are more delicate in some people.
Periodontal disease is a common cause of gum recession.
Periodontal disease causes the loss of the supporting bone
around a tooth through an inflammatory reaction. The gum
recession tends to affect all the teeth in a similar way.
Periodontal disease is caused by plaque buildup. Plaque is a
sticky film that forms on the teeth. Bacteria, mucus, cells,
and other particles are involved in the formation of plaque.
When plaque builds up on teeth, it causes:
Inflamed gums known as gingivitis. This condition can lead to
Periodontitis results in spaces between the
gums and teeth and loss of connective fibers and bone around
the tooth roots. This leads to receding gums
Tartar is hardened plaque and cannot be removed by tooth
brushing. Instead, it must be removed at a dentist’s office.
Problems caused by receding gums
Many people with receding gums have no concern about them early
on. Many others are unaware that they have recession.
For some, though, the concern may be about:
Fear of tooth loss
Sensitivity due to exposed tooth roots
Assessing concerns about the way gums look may include checking
how much of the gums are on show.
For some people, the gums show when talking and smiling. Others
have a different lip line that does not expose the gums to
Treatment for receding gums
Most cases of mild gum recession do not need treatment.
Dentists may simply give advice about prevention and offer to
monitor the gums. Teaching people how to brush gently but
effectively is a good early intervention.
For people who do need treatment, a number of options are
Orthodontics are one method of treatment for receding
Desensitizing agents, varnishes, and dentine bonding
agents: These aim to reduce any sensitivity that may develop in
the exposed tooth root. This treats the nerve symptoms and
helps to keep normal oral hygiene by allowing brushing of
sensitive teeth to continue
Composite restoration: Tooth-colored composite resins are
used to cover the root surface. They can also close black gaps
between teeth, as shown in these before-and-after pictures from the
British Dental Journal.
Pink porcelain or composite: This is the same pink color of
Removable gingival veneers made from acrylic or silicone.
Orthodontics: Treatments designed to move the position of
teeth can correct the gum margin.
Surgery: Tissue is grafted from elsewhere in the mouth and
heals over the gum recession.
How to prevent receding gums
Some of the causes of gingival recession are preventable.
The most obvious preventable cause is brushing the teeth too
harshly or by using hard-bristle toothbrushes. People should
avoid doing this to prevent receding gums
Plaque buildup leads to periodontal disease, so careful oral
hygiene can also help prevent receding gums.