Gums are the soft tissues that surround the teeth and provide a seal around them, maintaining them in the bone. When healthy, your gums provide an effective barrier to food and bacteria, and keep your teeth securely in place. Although keeping your teeth cavity-free and clean is important, if your gums aren’t healthy, the foundation of your teeth can become compromised and weakened.
One condition that should make you sit up and notice is receding gums, also known as gingival recession. Gum recession is a loss of gum tissue, or a retraction from the gum line… essentially the gums begin to “pull back” from the teeth. This can cause exposure to the roots of the teeth, and make your teeth look longer. It usually means the gum tissue has begun to thin as well, and this recession can do more than just affect the look of your teeth: It can also affect your health.
If you have gum recession, you may notice some of these symptoms:
- Tooth sensitivity (like pain when you brush, or when you drink hot or cold liquids)
- Teeth that feel loose
- The tooth feels “notched” at the gum line
- Visibly longer teeth
- Red, tender, or swollen gums
- Mouth sores
- Frequent bad breath
- A change in the way your teeth fit together
What causes Gum Recession?
The most common cause of recession is gum disease (periodontal disease). In its early stages, called gingivitis, the gums become swollen, red, and may bleed. As it becomes more serious, it becomes periodontitis, which can cause the gums to pull away from the teeth. Bone loss can occur, and teeth may even loosen and fall out. Other things that can contribute to gum recession are:
- You’re doing it wrong. You want your teeth to be as clean as possible, but if you’re brushing too hard, you could be damaging your gums. Try holding your toothbrush with just your fingertips, to lessen the pressure you may be using, if you are an aggressive brusher. And even if you don’t brush too hard, you may be buying the wrong kind of toothbrush: A soft bristle brush is what you need, and it should be replaced every few months.
- You may be a night-grinder. Do you ever wake up in the morning with tired or sore jaws or teeth? If so, you may be grinding your teeth in your sleep. Teeth-grinding, called bruxism, can cause small amounts of movement in your teeth. If you think you may be grinding, talk to your dentist about being fitted for a nightguard to protect your teeth while you sleep.
- Yes, you should floss… just don’t overdo it. Just like with brushing, too little can be harmful, but so can too much. If you don’t floss, food can become lodged at the gum line, and eventually cause disease. If you floss too roughly or aggressively, you could cut into the gums.
- Too much of a good thing. Okay, this one you learned in grade school, but it bears repeating. The foods you eat can have a huge impact on your teeth, especially sugary foods. Watch out for acidic foods, such as sodas, coffee, and citrus fruits, and avoid foods full of sugar, such as hard candies, desserts, and sports drinks. All of these types of foods can harm your teeth and irritate your gums. Instead, eat more fiber-rich foods, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats.
- Mouth piercings. A lip or tongue piercing can result in irritation that wears away at the gums.
- Genetics. Not much you can do to avoid this one, but if your parents had gum recession or periodontal disease, there’s a higher chance you will too. If so, be extra diligent about protecting your gums, just in case.
- Using tobacco. Whether you smoke or chew, tobacco is a no-no in regards to the health of your teeth and gums. Tobacco use may be one of the most significant risk factors in the development and progression of periodontal disease. (If you are ready to quit and need help, speak to your doctor.)
Gums are your body’s first line of defense of the foundation of your teeth. The more recession your gums have, the faster bacteria can travel down the tooth to the bone below. And left untreated, gum recession can lead not only to periodontal disease, but also to other health issues. Research has shown that periodontal disease is associated with several other diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and more. For a long time it was thought that bacteria was the factor that linked periodontal disease to other disease in the body; however, more recent research demonstrates that inflammation may be responsible for the association.*
According to the American Academy of Periodontology, data from the CDC shows that more than 70 percent of Americans over the age of 65 have gum disease. The odds go up if you have any of the risk factors listed above. If so, speak with your dentist about what your oral care routine should look like. Identifying symptoms of gum disease early is key to protecting your teeth and gums, so call us for a consultation today.