What are the causes of a gummy smile and how is it treated?

What are the causes of a gummy smile and how is it treated?

A big contributor to complaints that many dentists receive is the “gummy smile.” Also known as excessive gingival display, a gummy smile occurs more frequently in women (14% of the population) than in men (7% of the population). In layman’s terms, a gummy smile refers to when someone smiles and a lot of gum tissue is exposed above the top row of teeth. It is a subjective diagnosis and many dentists consider a smile a “gummy smile” if more than two millimeters of gum tissue is exposed when a patient smiles.

Eight Gummy Smile Causes

There are eight common causes of excessive gingival display. The most common cause being genetics. Others include:

1. – If an upper lip is very short, it cannot properly and fully cover the gums.

2. – If an upper lip moves too much when a patient smiles, the end result can be a “gummy” smile.

3. – Vertical maxillary excess occurs when there is an overgrowth of the patient’s maxilla.

4. – If your dentist uses the phrase, “anterior over-eruption,” he or she is referring to a large overbite.

5. – Sometimes, a gummy smile can be attributed to the simple wearing down of the teeth.

6. – This is also referred to as “altered active eruption”

7. – This is also referred to as “altered pass eruption.”


Sometimes, all it takes to remedy a gummy smile is a round of orthodontics. If a patient has a mild case of excessive gingival display that is mainly caused by genetics or wear, orthodontics can be used to move the patient’s bite into the correct position, which should reduce the too-much-gum phenomenon.


Instead of focusing on the gums, one cosmetic treatment option is to apply veneers or crowns in an attempt to lengthen the teeth so they are proportional to the patient’s gum size. For patients with a gummy smile that can be attributed to wear or genetics, veneers and/or crowns are a great option and are one of the more painless options available.

Laser Gum Contouring

Laser gum contouring removes extra gum tissue without having to go under general anesthesia and the procedure can be done in your dentist’s office. Following the procedure, your dentist will give you a few recovery rules and recovery will take a few days to a few weeks.


Botox is a cheap, temporary fix to a gummy smile. The serum is injected into a patient’s upper lip; this paralyzes the muscle and prevents it from lifting too high every time a patient smiles. At a minimum, the results last three months.

Orthognathic Surgery

A complicated name for jaw surgery, orthognathic surgery, re-contours and relocates the maxilla, which is then secured using screws and plates. This is best left for moderate to severe jaw protrusions and is typically preceded by a year of orthodontic treatment. Recovery time is long and orthognathic surgery does require a hospital stay and general anesthesia. With that being said, results are very noticeable and greatly alter the appearance of a gummy smile.


A gingivectomy is the removal of extra gum tissue and the reshaping of remaining gum tissue. This process is done by a periodontist and the end result exposes more of a patient’s teeth.

Lip Repositioning Surgery

If the upper lip is what is causing excessive gingival display, lip repositioning surgery can be done. This procedure involves severing the muscles used to elevate the lip.

While there are many causes for gummy smiles, a gummy smile is, fortunately, not life-threatening. This is beneficial for many reasons; the biggest being that a patient is able to do extensive research and is able to seek out multiple professional opinions regarding treatment options. It is wise to seek a second opinion if surgery is immediately recommended. Everyone deserves to have a smile that they are proud of. If your gummy smile causes you unnecessary grief, bring your concerns to your dentist so you can discuss what your treatment options are after your dentist has figured out why you suffer from excessive gingival display.


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