We're all familiar with optical illusions, which our brain visually perceives in a way different from the actual reality. A kind of optical illusion may also happen in your mouth: Your teeth appear to have gotten "longer." They haven't actually grown—instead, the gums have shrunk back (or receded) to reveal more of the tooth.
Unfortunately, this isn't an amusing visual trick! Gum recession isn't healthy, and it could endanger your teeth.
Receding gums occur for a variety of reasons. Some people are simply more genetically disposed to recession because they've inherited thinner gum tissues from their parents. You can also damage your gums through over-aggressive brushing.
But the most common cause for gum recession is periodontal (gum) disease, caused by bacteria inhabiting a thin biofilm on tooth surfaces called dental plaque. The more plaque present on your teeth, the more plentiful the bacteria, which can sharply increase your risk of infection. Unless treated, gum disease can eventually weaken the gums' attachment to teeth that can then cause the gums to recede.
Normally, the gums cover and protect the tooth roots from bacteria and other hazards, similar to the way enamel protects the tooth's visible crown. But teeth lose this protection when the gums recede, exposing them to disease-causing bacteria and other oral hazards.
Fortunately, there is hope for receded gums. The primary way is to first treat the gum disease that caused it: If the recession has been mild, this may help the tissues regain their former coverage. More severe recession, however, may require highly technical grafting surgery with donor tissue to promote new tissue growth at the site.
But the best approach is to avoid recession in the first place by preventing gum disease. This requires removing bacterial plaque daily through brushing and flossing, as well as regular dental visits for more thorough cleanings. Dental visits are also important if you have a higher risk profile for gum recession like thinner gum tissues.
Gum recession isn't just an inconvenience. It can put your oral health at long-term risk. But you may be able to avoid its occurrence by practicing daily oral hygiene and seeing your dentist regularly.
If you would like more information on gum recession, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Gum Recession.”