Mar 22, 2013 / 5:00 am
One of the most common dental health issues I deal with every single day in my office is gum recession. There are varying degrees of recession, multiple causes and many short and long term effects on one’s overall oral health. Here is a primer on the basics of what causes recession, how it affects your health, and the treatment options that should be considered.
First of all, let’s make sure we are on the same page with what recession is. Simply put, gingival, or gum, recession occurs when your gum tissue (gingiva) starts to recede away from the crown of a tooth, exposing the neck, or root, of the tooth to the outside world (your mouth).
What causes gums to recede away from teeth? Well, like many things in dentistry, recession is a multifactorial condition. Probably the most common cause is over-aggressive brushing. A heavy, horizontal brushing stroke with a stiff bristled toothbrush will not only cause gums to recede but can also severely wear away the exposed root surfaces. However, poor oral hygiene is also a major contributor because when plaque and tartar are not regularly removed from the teeth the natural response of the gum tissue is to move away from these irritants. Some systemic diseases, like diabetes, also contribute to the risk and severity of recession, as can genetics. Not surprisingly, smoking is a significant risk factor as well.
In terms of the effects, one of the most important things to understand is that when gums recede, the underlying bone that supports the teeth and gums is receding as well…and you will likely never gain that bone back. As recession progresses, teeth become mobile because of the lack of bone support and, ultimately, there is a risk of tooth loss. Esthetically, recession often results in unsightly “black triangle” spaces between teeth, and exposed root surfaces that are dark and discoloured. These root surfaces are much softer than the crown portion of your tooth, therefore your risk for cavities and for toothbrush abrasion is increased. Finally, recession often results in teeth that are very sensitive to temperature, acidic foods and drinks, and even to toothbrush contact.
What can you do about recession? For starters, make sure your home care isn’t overly aggressive. Choose a soft or extra-soft bristled toothbrush and hold it with your finger tips, not a clenched fist. Focus on small, circular strokes, starting at, but moving away from the gumline. And of course, floss!
For existing or progressing areas of recession, several effective treatments are available, the most common of which is grafting. Gingival grafting involves using gum tissue from the roof of your mouth to bulk up or cover areas of recession. Sometimes existing gum tissue can simply be repositioned to stop an area of recession and to cover up roots which were previously exposed. Other times, a small amount of filling material is bonded to exposed root surfaces, to eliminate sensitivity and to provide protection against toothbrush wear.
Most importantly, don’t ignore it! If you suspect you have some recession, follow these tips and talk to your dentist…your teeth will thank you!
Dr. Shane Gagner owns Highlands Family Dentistry in Glenmore, and has been providing comprehensive family dental care in Kelowna since 2006. He is a current part-time UBC faculty member, serving as a Mentor Dentist to residents completing their rotations at the Kelowna Gospel Mission dental clinic.
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