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:
over the long term
- hardened plaque buildup (tartar)
- hormonal changes in
- family history of
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 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
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.
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
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
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.