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Receding gums can cause significant problems

It is important to take care of your teeth. It’s equally important to take care of your gums. When gums recede, bacteria often moves in. This can damage tissue and bone. Tooth loss can also occur if the gums recede progressively.

Many Atlantic Canadians, especially as they age, will experience a loss of gum tissue around the tooth and that can expose the root surface. “Gum recession is very prevalent. Up to 47 per cent of North American adults experience some form of gum disease, and the aging population will likely increase this,” says Dr. Aditya Patel, a Halifax periodontist (a dentist who specializes in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of gum disease).

According to the Canadian Dental Association, seven out of 10 Canadians will develop gum disease at some point in their lives. It is the most common dental problem, and it can progress quite painlessly until there is a major problem.

Causes

One of the most common causes of receding gums, also known as gingival recession, is gum disease. “When you have gum disease, it can cause the loss of bone around the teeth. Since the gums sit on top of the bone, as the bone level decreases, the gums recede,” explains Dr. Patel.

External factors can also play a key role, resulting in gum recession. Aggressive tooth brushing with a hard-bristled toothbrush, for example, or brushing teeth the wrong way can cause the enamel on teeth to erode and gums to recede. Oral piercings can cause significant damage as well. Because most oral piercings rest near the gum line, there is a very high risk of gum recession.

In addition, restorations, or fillings, that are under gums can cause gingival recession. When tooth decay extends under the gum line, your dentist will have to put in place a filling that is also below the level of your gums, and this can cause them to become irritated and ultimately recede. “This type of recession is most common in patients with thin gingiva, or gums,” notes Dr. Patel. “Your dentist will guide you if there is need for preventive work when placing a filling.”

Dr. Aditya Patel, a Halifax periodontist who specializes in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of gum disease.

Not taking care of your oral health is another factor. When teeth aren’t brushed and flossed regularly, it offers an opportunity for plaque, a sticky deposit on teeth that bacteria love to call home, to harden and become tartar, which can only be removed during a dental cleaning. Tartar, also called calculus, can work its way below the gum line causing gums to recede and expose roots.

Genetics also play a part in receding gums. Some people, those with thin gums, are at increased risk of recession.

Gums recede over time, often over decades, and you may not be aware that you have a problem. One indication of a problem may be tooth sensitivity; hot, cold, sweet or sour foods may cause a sharp pain. Another indication may be that you notice that a particular tooth seems longer than normal. A tooth has recession if you are able to feel a groove near the gum line. You should check with your dentist if you notice any of these changes.

What to do

Addressing the issue of receding gums starts with prevention. Good oral health care, hand in hand with effective plaque control is essential. “If we can limit the amount of exposure the gums have to irritants such as plaque and calculus, the chances of seeing gum recession are dramatically decreased,” says Dr. Patel, who is also a lecturer and clinical instructor at Dalhousie University’s faculty of dentistry.

Once gum recession has occurred, he notes, deciding on a treatment requires you and your dentist to answer three questions: Is there sensitivity or pain from the exposed root surface? Is the area at risk for further recession? Is the gum recession an esthetic concern?

A deep cleaning may help to remove plaque and tartar below the gum line. However, in some cases a gum tissue graft may be required. This procedure covers exposed root surfaces with healthy tissue and increases the tissue thickness so further recession does not occur.

Regular visits to your dentist are important, says Dr. Patel. Your dentist will look for a number of markers to diagnose receding gums including the amount of keratinized, or thick, tissue around the tooth, the level of bone support around the teeth, and the colour and consistency of your gums.

Together you can help keep gum recession at bay.

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