Remember those days when our parents showed us how to brush our teeth and said if we did it every day we wouldn’t get cavities? Maybe you are a parent today and passing on that same wisdom to your little ones. As with most things in life, the stakes climb when we become adults and one consequence of poor oral care habits is gum disease.
Healthy teeth require healthy gums but ironically, most people overlook the importance of diligent care to prevent gum recession. We all eat every single day and some of that food inevitably is trapped in the barely-there space between our teeth and gums. Since this space is located below the gum line it’s tough to clean and without regular brushing and flossing, bacteria can form and transform into plaque. More advanced levels of plaque eventually become tartar and if tartar migrates below the gum line it causes the gums to turn bright red in color, followed by swelling and bleeding.
This condition can be mitigated with focused brushing and flossing but if left alone can transform to gum recession and serious periodontitis where the gums literally pull away from the teeth and cause even more problems including infections and decay.
The origins of gum recession
Gum recession is a persistent condition that progresses very slowly and often starts as just a mild irritant. As gum recession increases in severity, it turns gums bright red and they swell, often bleed, and become quite painful. Bleeding gums then go on to expose a tooth’s roots and this is an unpleasant result. Our teeth are meant to reside below the natural gum line where their roots are protected with cementum instead of enamel. When tooth roots are exposed, they can rapidly decay and lead to cavities and become sensitive to hot, cold, and sweets.
What are gums?
We see them every day and generally take them for granted but many people don’t really know what gums are. Gums are also known as gingivae and are made of pink tissue that meets the base of our teeth. Each set of teeth are accompanied by one gum.
The tissue of gums is a dense collection of blood vessels underneath a mucous membrane. This particular tissue connects with the rest of the mouth lining and the gums are securely attached to the jawbone, tightly covering every tooth all the way to the neck.
What causes gum recession?
Many ingredients make up the recipe for gum recession from aggressive brushing to genetics. Let’s look closer at some of these factors:
- Genetics—You can’t change your DNA but chance are good that if others in your family have had gum recession, odds are higher that will also experience it.
- Aggressive brushing and flossing—Hard brushing is not better. In fact, the opposite is true and the same goes for flossing. Great pressure when brushing is not necessary and it is much easier on your teeth to be gentle with the brush. When flossing, don’t press down to the point of pain; that does more harm than good.
- You might not have any control over grinding your teeth at night but doing so causes a great deal of pressure on gums and that leads to them pulling away from your teeth.
- Inflammation of gum tissue and excess physical wear on the gums caused by overzealous brushing or using a toothbrush with stiff bristles. Interestingly, gum recession often begins on the left side of the mouth as most people brush with their right hand which puts more pressure on the left side gums.
- Misaligned teeth, dental treatment damage, and lip or tongue piercings.
Some people tend to develop gum recession because they have delicate, thinner gum tissue that makes plaque formation likelier. Age is another key risk factor with receding gums and in fact, nearly 90 percent of people over age 65 have receding gums in at least one tooth. Smoking and other tobacco use is of course very damaging to teeth and gums and should be avoided.
Some common symptoms of receding gums include change in tooth appearance, increased space between teeth, and painful sensitivity to hot and cold on the teeth’s roots, as well as sugar.