Receding Gums

Withdrawal of the gums from around the teeth, exposing part of the roots

  • Usually develops after the age of 55
  • Poor oral hygiene and abrasive tooth-brushing are risk factors
  • Gender and genetics are not significant factors

Healthy gums form a tight seal around the tooth where the crown of the tooth meets the root. Receding of the gums is a result of the supporting bone and gum around the tooth being destroyed. When gum recession is severe, there may not be enough bone and soft tissue left to support the tooth. Eventually, the tooth may become loose and, in severe cases, may have to be extracted by the dentist.

If the roots are exposed, the teeth may be sensitive to hot, cold, or sweet substances. Since the roots are softer than the enamel on the crown of the tooth, they are also more susceptible to decay (see Dental caries).

What are the causes?

Severely receding gums are usually a symptom of periodontitis. This disorder is usually a result of poor oral hygiene, which results in a build-up of plaque (a deposit of food particles, saliva, and bacteria) and calculus (hardened plaque) between the base of the teeth and the gums.

The gums will eventually become inflamed and recede, exposing the roots of the teeth. Vigorous, abrasive toothbrushing along the margins of the gums, particularly in a horizontal direction with a hard toothbrush, may also cause the gums to recede.

What might be done?

If you have receding gums, improving your oral hygiene (see Caring for your teeth and gums) and giving up smoking should prevent any further recession of the gums.

Your dentist will probably use a procedure known as scaling to remove the plaque and calculus from your teeth. Scaling should help to prevent your gums from receding further. He or she will also advise you on your toothbrushing and flossing techniques to avoid further damage to the exposed roots. Your dentist may suggest that you use a desensitizing toothpaste or fluoride mouthwash, which will also reduce the risk of decay. If your teeth are very sensitive, the dentist may treat them with a desensitizing varnish or an adhesive filling material. Very rarely, grafting procedures, which help to cover the exposed surfaces of roots, are used. If severely receding gums cause any teeth to become loose, these loose teeth can sometimes be fixed to teeth that are more firmly anchored in the jawbone.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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