Receding Gums: What Causes Them & Treatment


Our smiles change as we age. We begin with the gummy smile of toothless babies, and then move on to the gapped-tooth smiles of the Tooth Fairy years.  Later, we may sport braces or retainers, or chip a tooth along the way somewhere.  Looking back over the decades through pictures is endearing, no matter how awkward the chipped-tooth smile.

But one change that’s not so endearing is when the smile begins to show receding gums.

When teeth are healthy, gum tissue fits around them snugly.  But gum recession is a condition in which the gums pull away from the tooth and exposes more of the root.

Receding gums create an unattractive elongation of the tooth and can also lead to a higher risk of tooth decay and other oral health issues, including tooth sensitivity, bacteria build-up, and even tooth loss.

It’s important to treat receding gums before they lead to further complications. But because there are several potential causes of receding gums, you’ll need to know what is causing your gums to recede so you can choose the right treatment.

What causes receding gums?

There are several factors that may lead to gum recession. Some are life habits that you can change on your own. Others may require the assistance of your dentist or  a periodontist to fix. Common causes of receding gums include:

  • Periodontal disease – Untreated bacterial infections in your gums destroy the gum tissue.
  • Aggressive brushing – When you “scrub hard” rather than “brush gently,” it can tear at the gums and cause them to recede.
  • Genetics – When your parents have receding gums, it’s likely that you will too.
  • Tooth misalignment – Teeth that do not come together evenly cause extra pressure on the gum and bones, which causes gum recession.
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding) – The force placed on the teeth, gums, and bones can cause gums to recede.
  • Tobacco products – Tobacco products are notoriously bad for oral health, period.
  • Poor oral care routine – Failure to adhere to a proper oral care routine can lead to multiple issues with teeth and gums, including gum recession.
  • Hormonal changes – Pregnant and menopausal women are often susceptible to gum sensitivity and recession.
  • Lip/tongue piercing – Lip and tongue jewelry often cause irritation in the mouth that leads to gum recession.

How to treat receding gums


As we mentioned earlier, the cause of receding gums often determines the treatment.  For example, if your gums are receding because you’re brushing too hard, a soft-bristled brush and a more gentle technique may be all the treatment you need. If your receding gums are caused by poor oral health care, the use of tobacco products, or mouth jewelry, you may be able prevent further recession with lifestyle changes. A mouth guard can help treat bruxism and prevent further damage, and an orthodontist can help with tooth misalignment.

But in some cases treatment of your receding gums may require your dentist or periodontist (gum specialist) to intervene. Here are a few ways the dentist or periodontist may treat your receding gums:

  • Deep cleaning – Also called scaling and root planning, deep cleaning involves the removal of plaque and tartar from the pocket area between the teeth and gums as well as from the surface of the roots of your teeth. Your after-care instructions may include an anti-bacterial mouthwash or antibiotics to reduce the bacteria in your mouth.
  • Pocket depth reduction – This surgical process is often done in combination with a deep cleaning, and it involves the additional procedure of snugly securing the gum over the tooth root in order to reduce the size of the pocket, or gap, between the gum and the tooth.
  • Gum graft – With advanced gum recession, there may not be enough local gum tissue to secure against the tooth root. In these cases, a periodontist may perform a gum graft, taking a thin piece of gum tissue from another place in your mouth to cover the exposed tooth root.

Worried about your gums? Come see us!

At Soft Touch Dental in San Diego, we keep a close eye on the total oral health of our patients. When you come in for your regular cleaning, we examine not just your teeth but your gums, too.  This allows us to catch early signs of periodontal disease, receding gums, and other potential issues with your oral health. And as with most things, the sooner you catch them, the easier the fix.

If you’re concerned about your gums, you don’t have to wait until your regularly scheduled appointment. Come in and see us at Soft Touch Dental today.