When people think of the dentist, the first word that comes to mind is “teeth,” right? And although that’s great consistent word recognition, it’s missing a big piece of the puzzle: The gums. The supporting structures of the teeth are equally important as the teeth themselves for our health. In fact, I’d argue that they are even more important. If you have noticed you have receding gums, you know first hand just how concerning the gums can be. In this article we’ll talk about receding gums causes, how to fix receding gums, and answer the question probably on your mind, can receding gums grow back on their own?
What Causes Receding Gums
Okay first things first, let’s get straight to the source and discuss what causes receding gums. After all, if you understand the causes, it should be easier to move forward.
There are a few factors that lead to receding gums. Some of the factors are controllable and some of them are not.
Let’s look at them in a list format and then I’ll elaborate on some details I think you should know. Here are the most common receding gum causes:
- Periodontal disease
- Brushing hard over the gums
- Teeth grinding, also called bruxism
- Trauma from an accident
- History of orthodontics to correct severe issues
- Genetics from thin bone structure
- Genetics based on the type of bacteria in our mouth
Okay, so if you know anything about me, I hate lists. It’s great for high-level detail, but if we left it there, you’d be scratching your head. Here’s what you need to know. Each one of the receding gums causes on that list can be put into one of three categories: Bacteria causes, chronic mechanical force, and genetics. Let’s discuss this.
The most common cause of gum recession due to bacteria is Periodontal disease. You may have also heard of this called, gum disease. It is a chronic infection of the gums and bone around the teeth.
The process of gum disease is caused by bacteria that harbor at or below the gumline. The bacteria cause inflammation of the gums which progresses to cause deterioration.
Therefore, if the periodontal disease causes loss of bone and gum, you can bet it also creates the look and feel of receding gums.
The thing about periodontal disease is it is progressive. It starts barely noticeable and continues to create further gum and bone loss over time.
But here’s the good news. Periodontal disease is preventable and able to be stopped. There are things you can do to prevent the development and progression of it. Here’s a few:
- Practice good hygiene habits: Brush gently twice a day; floss at least once per day
- Avoid cigarette smoking
- Limit alcohol use
- Maintain a well-balanced diet
- Stay hydrated
- Control systemic conditions like diabetes
- Maintain routine dental checkups at least every 6 months.
Chronic Mechanical Force
You may have seen things like brushing too hard and orthodontic treatment on the list of what causes receding gums. These are both mechanical forces on the teeth that cause irritation over time.
And the amazing thing is that both brushing and orthodontics are an effort to do good things. However, you also need to understand that too much of a good thing can also be bad.
By brushing excessively, the teeth will be extra clean, but the gums will be delivered a destructive force that begins to wear them away.
The same goes for orthodontics. A normal timeframe of orthodontics is certainly okay, but if the teeth are subjected to excessive force over a long period of time from braces, it can have an effect of receding gums.
So, the best recommendation is to use a power toothbrush. A power toothbrush help you to brush in a more controlled manner without the abrasive motion needed for manual toothbrushes.
Oh and the final factor that can lead to receding gums is our own pedigree of genetics. Specifically what matters is how thin the bone is around our teeth and the types of bacteria that we each naturally harbor in our mouths.
Some people are genetically predisposed to have thin bone, and some are predisposed to have thick bone. We call this biotype. Thinner bone is more likely to cause receding gums. Studies estimate that about 44% of the population have a thin biotype.
And when it comes to bacteria, the same rings true. We each have bacteria in our mouth. Some studies estimate over 700 species to be exact. That’s normal. However, what matter is the percentages of each type of bacteria. Some people have more bacteria that cause periodontal disease, and some have more bacteria that cause tooth decay….and vice versa.
So depending on each of our genetic ratios of bacteria, it predisposes us more to either periodontal disease or tooth decay. Unfortunately, it’s a problem all humans share. Everyone is resistant to one thing but more susceptible to something else. Go figure.
Can Receding Gums Grow Back
Now we get to the question, I’m assuming is first and foremost on your mind. If you’re noticing some gum recession, you’re wondering can receding gums grow back. In other words, can receding gums be reversed right?
You will see an entire spectrum of answers to this question from a hard no… all the way to yes. As a dentist with experience treating some of the worst periodontal conditions in the country, I’ll give it to you straight.
Can receding gums grow back? The reality is… it depends. Let me explain.
Receding gums can be reversed depending on the cause. For example, if the gums have receded after orthodontics because the teeth were moved wider than where the gums were before, it may be reversed by moving the teeth back within in the gum envelope.
The same goes for irritated gums that are inflamed from plaque accumulation. Often if the gums are in the early stages of periodontal disease, and there is a little recession caused by plaque, that often will rebound back to normal after a deep cleaning.
But you must also know, that gum recession is a spectrum. Once a significant amount of gum or bone is already lost, there is a point where is not reversible on its own.
So what happens then? Well at that point, the gums receding cannot be reversed naturally, but there are surgical treatments that can.
Treatment for Receding Gums
Even though receding gums won’t often grow back naturally, there is still hope to put things back together. Here’s what I recommend to consider.
How to Fix Receding Gums: Take Control of the Progression
Well if you can’t reverse something fully, what should you do? At least stop it front getting worse. That’s the first priority I recommend.
How Your Dentist Can Help
Discuss the recession with your dentist and determine if a consult with a periodontist is needed. The dentist will measure how far your gums have receded to determine the most effective next steps and will help to control any underlying causes.
If your receding gums is caused by bacteria, the dentist may recommend a deep cleaning procedure which is called scaling and root planing. The procedure allows the dentist to access the bacteria below the gumline that is contributing to the inflammation of the recession.
Your dentist may also recommend for you to have hygiene cleanings more frequently to slow the plaque from accumulating and causing further gum recession.
What you Can do At Home
Be sure to use a soft bristle power toothbrush and limit brushing over the gums
Routinely use a prescription mouthwash for gum disease such as Peridex
Wear an appliance to reduce stress from teeth grinding or see a TMJ specialist
How to Fix Receding Gums: Consider Dental Treatment or Periodontal Surgery
And what if you’re at a point where the recession is more than mild? You may want to consider correcting the area of gum loss. Fortunately, there are several options available for treatment to reverse the effects of gum loss. Buckle up, here we go:
- Bonding: When gum is lost around a tooth, the root of the tooth is exposed. This has negative consequences. The root of the tooth is often a light brown instead of white like enamel, and the root of the tooth is more sensitive to temperature and touch. As an option, a dentist can bond over the exposed root to make it appear like enamel and protect it from temperature. The process of bonding is similar to having a white composite filling placed. So if you’ve had a filling before, the process is very much the same. There is little to no recovery and no time off from work needed for this type of procedure.
- Flap surgery. When the recession is caused by bacteria, often there are bacteria below the gumline that is difficult to reach. In this case, flap surgery may be recommended to reverse receding gums. The dentist makes a small incision around the tooth, lifts up the gum tissue, cleans underneath, and sutures the tissue back into a position that is more optimal to clean around the tooth in the future.
- Gum graft. When you ask if receding gums can grow back, a gum graft is the closest treatment we have to reverse gum loss. During a gum graft, a dentist will take gum tissue from another part of your mouth (or use donor tissue) and surgically place it around the area where the gums receded. The tissue heals naturally around your tooth and becomes similar to your own gum tissue. The healing time for this procedure is about 3-4 days of soreness.
Recession Doesn’t Have to Create Depression
Receding gums is a common condition that can be stressful. It evokes the feeling of aging and deterioration. No one wants to see that in their own mouth.
The key goal of gum recession is to prevent it. Do you best to follow the tips and tricks to prevent the gums from receding in the first place.
But if you find yourself in a situation where the gums are a little more receded than you’d hope, don’t stress. Take action and consult with your dentist. There are treatment options available to restore the area effectively and predictably.