Gum recession is the process in which the margin of the gum tissue that surrounds the teeth wears away, or pulls back, exposing more of the tooth, or the tooth’s root. When gum recession occurs, “pockets,” or gaps, form between the teeth and gum line, making it easy for disease-causing bacteria to build up. If left untreated, the supporting tissue and bone structures of the teeth can be severely damaged, and may ultimately result in tooth loss.
Gum recession is a common dental problem. Most people don’t know they have gum recession because it occurs gradually. The first sign of gum recession is usually tooth sensitivity, or you may notice a tooth looks longer than normal. Typically, a notch can be felt near the gum line.
Gum recession is not something you want to ignore. If you think your gums are receding, make an appointment with your dentist. There are treatments that can repair the gum and prevent further damage.
Why Do Gums Recede?
There are a number of factors that can cause your gums to recede, including:
Periodontal diseases. These are bacterial gum infections that destroy gum tissue and supporting bone that hold your teeth in place. Gum disease is the main cause of gum recession.
Your genes. Some people may be more susceptible to gum disease. In fact, studies show that 30% of the population may be predisposed to gum disease, regardless of how well they care for their teeth.
Aggressive tooth brushing. If you brush your teeth too hard or the wrong way, it can cause the enamel on your teeth to wear away and your gums to recede.
Insufficient dental care. Inadequate brushing, flossing, and rinsing with antibacterial mouthwash makes it easy for plaque to turn into calculus (tartar) — a hard substance that builds on and between your teeth and can only be removed by a professional dental cleaning. It can lead to gum recession.
Hormonal changes. Fluctuations in female hormone levels during a woman’s lifetime, such as in puberty, pregnancy, and menopause, can make gums more sensitive and more vulnerable to gum recession.
Tobacco products. Tobacco users are more likely to have sticky plaque on their teeth that is difficult to remove and can cause gum recession.
Grinding and clenching your teeth. Clenching or grinding your teeth can put too much force on the teeth, causing gums to recede.
Crooked teeth or a misaligned bite. When teeth do not come together evenly, too much force can be placed on the gums and bone, allowing gums to recede.
Body piercing of the lip or tongue. Jewelry can rub the gums and irritate them to the point that gum tissue is worn away.
Causes and risk factors
The California Dental Association (CDA) estimates that three out of every four adults have some form of periodontal disease. This includes receding gums.
Periodontal disease is a progressed form of gingivitis. It first starts off with a buildup of bacteria and plaque within the gums and the teeth. Over time, stuck-on plaque damages the gums and causes them to fall back from the teeth. In severe cases, pockets form between the teeth and gums. This creates a breeding ground for even more bacteria and plaque to form.
Receding gums may be caused by a number of factors, including:
- aggressive brushing over the long term
- hardened plaque buildup (tartar)
- hormonal changes in women
- family history of gum disease
Certain medications can cause dry mouth This increases your risk for receding gums. Dry mouth means your mouth has less saliva than it should. Without adequate saliva, the tissues in your mouth can become vulnerable to bacterial infections and injuries.
According to the CDA, receding gums are most common in adults 40 years of age and older. For this reason, it is often misconceived as a normal sign of aging. Also, more men than women develop receding gums.
Symptoms of receding gums
Symptoms of receding gums include:
- bleeding after brushing or flossing
- red, swollen gums
- bad breath
- pain at the gum line
- visibly shrinking gums
- exposed tooth roots
- loose teeth
A periodontist can determine the best course of treatment to save gum tissues and your teeth. First, if an infection is found in the gums, antibiotics may be prescribed.
Other medications may also be used to treat the underlying problem that is causing gum recession. Options include:
- topical antibiotic gel
- antiseptic chips
- antimicrobial mouthwash
- enzyme suppressants
Surgery may be used in the worst cases of receding gums. There are generally two options: flap surgery and grafting.
Flap surgery is a deep tissue cleaning used if other treatments fail. It gets rid of bacteria and tartar buildup within the gums. In order to perform this surgery, a periodontist lifts up the gums and then puts them back in place when the procedure is over. Sometimes the teeth appear even longer after flap surgery because the gums fit more closely around them.
In grafting, the goal is to revive either gum tissues or the bones. During the procedure, the periodontist places either a synthetic particle or a piece of bone or tissue to help the gums grow back. It’s important to note that this process cannot be successful over the long term without proper oral health care.
Natural Remedies for Receding Gums
1. Oil pulling
In a 2009 study the ayurvedic practice of oil pulling showed a reduction of plaque in individuals with gingivitis.
To try oil pulling, swish a tablespoon of a high-quality coconut oil around your mouth for about 20 minutes. This swishing “pulls” the oil between your teeth. Then spit the oil out, rinse your mouth with warm tap or saline water, and brush your teeth.
The traditional oil to use for this technique is sesame oil. But 2012 research on tooth decay from Athlone Institute of Technology indicates that coconut oil may prevent the Streptococcus mutans bacteria from damaging tooth enamel.
2. Eucalyptus oil
According to a 2008 study, eucalyptus oil is an anti-inflammatory germicide that may treat receding gums and stimulate the growth of new gum tissue.
For use as a bacterial agent and for soothing gum inflammation, a 2016 study suggests a saltwater rinse could be effective. To do a salt rinse:
- Thoroughly combine 1 tsp. of salt and 1 cup of warm water.
- Rinse your mouth with this saltwater mixture for 30 seconds.
- Spit out the rinse — don’t swallow it.
- Repeat this two to three times a day.
4. Green tea
According to a 2009 study, drinking green tea can help promote healthy teeth and gums and may actually ward off disease. Try drinking one to two cups of green tea daily.
5. Peppermint essential oil
According to a 2013 article in the European Journal of Dentistry, peppermint oil can be effective in preventing the growth of disease-causing microorganisms in the mouth.
6. Aloe vera
A 2009 study showed that aloe vera can be effective in promoting oral health: injecting medicinal-grade aloe vera gel into inflamed gums resulted in improvement of periodontal conditions.
Septilin is a proprietary multi-herbal preparation of guggul, guduchi, licorice, and other compounds. A 2014 clinical trialTrusted Source published in the Journal of Periodontal Implant Science suggests that taking Septilin improves periodontal treatment outcomes.
Septilin is available in both tablet and syrup form. The recommended dosage for adults is two tablets taken twice daily, or 2 teaspoons of syrup taken three times a day.
8. Omega-3 fatty acids
A 2014 clinical trial concluded that 300 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids taken daily for 12 weeks can reduce gingival index while improving gum-to-tooth attachment. Gingival index is a measure of the severity of gum inflammation.
There were also indications that omega-3 fatty acids may act to prevent chronic periodontitis.
9. Tea tree essential oil
A 2013 article in the European Journal of Dentistry concluded that tea tree oil can be effective in preventing the growth of disease-causing microorganisms in the mouth.
10. Turmeric gel
Turmeric contains curcumin, which is recognized for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. According to a 2015 study, turmeric gel could possibly prevent plaque and gingivitis — which can contribute to receding gums.
11. Hydrogen peroxide
Rinsing with a solution of water and hydrogen peroxide may help treat sore, red, or swollen gums. To use hydrogen peroxide as a natural remedy for receding gums:
- Combine 1/4 cup of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide with 1/4 cup of water.
- Swish the mixture around your mouth for about 30 seconds.
- Spit the rinse out — don’t swallow it.
- Repeat this two to three times a week.
12. Thyme essential oil
Thyme oil is effective in preventing the growth of disease-causing microorganisms in the mouth according to a 2013 article in the European Journal of Dentistry.
Brush your teeth for at least two minutes at least twice a day. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush to remove plaque and debris from your teeth and along the gum line. Depending on how vigorously you brush, a medium- or hard-bristled brush could damage your gums, root surface, and tooth enamel.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), flossing one time per day is an essential part of taking care of your teeth and gums, helping remove debris between teeth that can contribute to plaque buildup.
In Ayurveda, the well-known Rasayana herb, amla (the fruit of a tree) is considered a general rebuilder of oral health. Amla works well as a mouth rinse as a decoction. One to two grams per day can be taken orally in capsules for long-term benefit to the teeth and gums. Herbs such as amla that support the healing and development of connective tissue when taken internally also benefit the gums. The healing effect of these tonics take longer to become apparent since they must saturate the whole body in order to work on the gums. The results, however, are more lasting.
Talk with your dentist about using natural remedies and traditional treatment to help stop or slow down the process.
Complications of receding gums
The CDA estimates that periodontal diseases such as receding gums are responsible for about 70 percent of adult tooth loss. When there is not enough gum tissue to hold tooth roots in place, the teeth are vulnerable to falling out. In some instances, multiple loose teeth are removed by the dentist before they fall out.
Advanced cases of receding gums will likely require surgery to prevent further damage.
Preventing receding gums
Perhaps one of the best tools for preventing receding gums is to see a dentist for regular cleanings and checkups. Even if you don’t experience any symptoms, a dentist can identify early signs of gum disease. You can also help prevent gum problems by practicing smart oral health habits.
While regular flossing and brushing removes bacteria, food particles, and plaque, tartar may only be removed with a dental cleaning. Since tartar can contribute to gum disease and receding gums, this is why biannual cleanings are so vital in preventing these types of complications.
The outlook for early stages of gum disease can be good — but only if the problem is treated early. You also don’t have to wait for a dentist to detect signs of receding gums. If something in your mouth doesn’t look or feel right, give your dentist a call right away. You may be able to treat gingivitis before it progresses into receding gums.