Receding Gums: Treatment Options and Causes

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.

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:
1) Physical wear of the gums
2) 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.

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:
1) Appearance
2) Fear of tooth loss
3) 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 view.

Treatment for receding gums

Orthodontics are one method of treatment for receding gums.
1) 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
2) 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.
3) Pink porcelain or composite: This is the same pink color of the gums.
4) Removable gingival veneers made from acrylic or silicone.
5) Orthodontics: Treatments designed to move the position of teeth can correct the gum margin.
6) 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.

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