Have you noticed your smile has begun to look toothier than before? Perhaps your teeth look longer than you originally remember them?
These are both common signs of gum recession, a condition that affects many adults in the US. It occurs when the gums become less snugly attached to your teeth and begin to recede. Eventually this gum recession will expose the tooth roots, at which point your teeth may look yellow around their margins. This is due to the cementum being exposed on the tooth roots.
It can look quite unsightly, but will also increases the risk of tooth decay in the tooth root area as cementum isn’t as hard and durable as tooth enamel. Additionally, by this point you may begin to feel other signs of discomfort such as increased tooth sensitivity to hot and cold.
What Causes Gum Recession?
Gum recession may be caused if you brush your teeth too hard, literally wearing away the gum tissue. This might be the case if you are using a toothbrush that has very hard bristles or are simply applying too much pressure during brushing.
Some people are naturally more prone towards developing gum recession because their gum tissue is thinner than normal, something that is simply down to genetics. Gum recession can also occur as a side-effect of aging, hence the expression “long in the tooth.” However, a far more common reason for gum recession is gum disease.
Why Do We Need Healthy Gums?
Healthy gums are designed to form a tight seal around your teeth and they are firmly attached to your teeth through connective tissues and through the underlying jawbone.
Strong and healthy gums help to prevent bacteria in the mouth from getting into the bone and other tissues surrounding your teeth. They also help to cushion and protect your teeth during high impact actions such as eating and chewing, and during tooth brushing.
Your gums are attached to your teeth through collagen fibres, but these fibres can deteriorate due to trauma and inflammation, gradually leading to gum recession. As the gums begin to recede, the difference between the color of the tooth root and your actual tooth will become more apparent, resulting in a less than aesthetically pleasing smile.
Additionally, the gums are designed to fit snugly in the contact areas in between your teeth and as they recede this can create unsightly spaces that will look like black triangles and which can easily trap food and plaque.
Identifying the Reason Why Your Gums Are Receding
If you have noticed any signs of gum recession, then it is important to take action, by visiting your dentist or preferably by visiting a periodontist. A periodontist is a dentist who specializes in treating problems with the gums and who has undergone several years’ additional training after first completing dental school.
They will be able to thoroughly examine your gum tissue and will identify the exact reason why your gum recession is occurring. They can also assess the extent of the damage, including whether it has affected the underlying structures such as the connective tissues in between your gums and teeth and the bone surrounding your teeth. Once they have all this information, they can provide you with a suitable treatment plan to rectify this situation.
Often gum disease is caused by gum disease or to give it its correct name, periodontal disease. This is an extremely serious condition that can eventually result in tooth loss because it will begin to eat away the bone surrounding your teeth. It is a bacterial infection that normally results due to poor oral hygiene.
Why Poor Oral Hygiene Causes Periodontal Disease
Most people understand dentists recommend brushing at least twice a day and flossing at least once a day. However, sometimes the temptation to skip brushing and particularly to skip flossing every so often can soon become a habit, allowing harmful bacteria to build up over the surfaces of your teeth and gums. These bacteria are contained in a sticky plaque biofilm.
If it’s been a while since you last brushed your teeth, just try running your tongue over your tooth surfaces and you may well feel this film. The bacteria within plaque produce toxins that promote inflammation and infection in your gum tissues.
Failing to regularly remove plaque allows it to harden into calculus which is a mineralized deposit that is extremely hard and which cannot be removed during regular brushing. This can happen within just a couple of days and you may even be able to see calculus build up on your teeth around the margins where your gums meet your teeth. Calculus can look almost yellowish in appearance and can only be removed by having your teeth professionally cleaned either by your dentist or periodontist.
Treating Periodontal Disease
There are several non-surgical and surgical treatments for gum disease, depending on its progression and the destruction already caused to your gums. Your periodontist will be able to advise you more fully about which treatments are most suitable for you.
The most common treatment used is called scaling and root planing which deep cleans the gums. It is like a scaling and polishing treatment that is normally carried out during a hygiene treatment, but will also clean or scale any exposed tooth roots as this is often where calculus tends to build up. Scaling and root planing treatments may be recommended as part of an ongoing maintenance plan to prevent periodontal disease from recurring.
Other, more advanced treatments will surgically remove the bacteria causing the infection and these treatments can also help to rebuild tissues destroyed by periodontal disease. Some of these treatments are extremely sophisticated, using advanced bone grafting techniques and gum grafting procedures to help restore lost tissues. These surgical treatments not only help to replace lost bone and gum, but will also protect the teeth and improve the overall aesthetic appearance of your smile.
Sometimes periodontal disease is too far advanced to save teeth, but where this is the case then often dental implants can be used to restore them once your periodontist has brought the disease under control.
Regular dental checkups help to reduce the likelihood of developing periodontal disease, particularly when combined with regular dental cleanings. If you haven’t visited a dentist for a while but are concerned your teeth look longer than you remember, or if you have noticed your gums bleed frequently when you brush or floss, it’s time to schedule that appointment.