Recession: The Reason for Concern – A Look at Receding Gums

Periodic dental examination to have a healthy mouth, gums, and teeth.

Gums act like the skin on your body. They provide a protective covering for the underlying structures and prevent unwanted things like bacteria and food particles from getting into the body. When they become damaged or diseased, they recede from their ideal position around the neck of the tooth. Eventually, bone is lost and the more delicate tissue of the tooth root is exposed leading to sensitivity, cavities and erosion or abrasion of the root, and even tooth loss.


Gingival/Gum recession is not a disease–it’s a condition with many different causes. It can affect a single tooth or an entire mouth and treating it depends on the cause. Recession is common condition. About 50% of all people from the ages of 18 – 64 have at least one area of recession in their mouths and that percentage increases with age! Let’s take a closer look at how it works and what we can do to minimize recession in our own mouths.


What are the Causes of Gum Recession?

One of the most important things to consider when looking at recedinggums is the cause for them! Finding out what is causing the problem is the best way to solve it. Recession can have many causes including


  • Age
  • Tobacco use
  • Gum disease
  • Genetics
  • Aggressive brushing
  • Misaligned teeth
  • Grinding
  • Bad Bite
  • Oral habits
  • Defective dental work
  • Systemic disease


Finding the cause isn’t always easy. Let’s take a closer look.



Of course there’s nothing to be done about aging, unfortunately, but knowing that age is a risk factor for receding gums ensures your dentist will evaluate your tissues closely and make recommendations to safeguard against some of the dangers that come along with recession, like root exposure. One of the problems of an aging mouth is that with increased age, there is increased risk of dry mouth due to the higher likelihood of an older person being on one of many medications that cause it.


The combination of dry mouth with gum recession can be devastating to your teeth. An exposed root is already prone to decay, and without saliva’s protection, that decay progresses quickly and is very difficult to treat. Your dentist may recommend fluoride trays or some other aids to protect your tooth roots.


Tobacco use

Both smoking and using smokeless tobacco cause recession. Smoking contributes to recession due to its impact on gum disease–one of the leading causes of recession. Smoking is a known contributor to gum disease. Did you know that smokers who smoked less than a pack of cigarettes a day have 3 times the incidence of gum disease than non-smokers? Someone who smokes more than 11/2 packs a day has 6 times the risk.


Smokeless tobacco comes in direct contact with the tissue. Up to 27% of smokeless tobacco users have recession.


Gum Disease

Periodontal or gum disease affects the tissues surrounding the teeth. Recession is one of the signs of gum disease. Periodontal disease is a serious cause for concern, as it is the leading cause of tooth loss and has been linked to many systemic diseases.  Your dental team keeps a close eye on your recession to make sure it is not being caused by gum disease. When recession is caused by gum disease, the treatment will depend on the severity of the disease, but will include a thorough cleaning to try and stop the progression.



Genetics play a role in the size of the teeth and jaws and their alignment. They also determine how thick the gum tissue is around your front teeth! Some people, more women than men, have a thin type of tissue around their front teeth. These people are more likely to experience recession, especially after surgical procedures. Your dentist assesses your tissue when they are performing their exam!


Aggressive brushing

Yes, that’s right! You can actually cause recession by brushing too hard, using a toothbrush with too stiff bristles, or improper technique. Research shows that the ideal time to brush teeth is two minutes. More than that and the benefits stop and damage can occur. The pressure is important, also. A study shows that the ideal pressure for brushing is 150 grams–or about the weight of an orange. You can hold an orange in one hand and your toothbrush in the other to compare, or you can ask your dental hygienist for guidance.


Technique is important, too. Scrubbing can damage delicate gums. A gentle circular motion with the softest available bristles is best.


Misaligned Teeth

When teeth are misaligned, recession can occur for two different reasons. It can occur due to inflammation that occurs when teeth are not cleaned properly due to overlap and it can occur due to the tooth being pushed out of the arch. When the tooth is pushed too far to the facial, for instance, it can be pushed out of the bone with resulting tissue loss. Orthodontics are the best treatment for recession caused by misalignment of the teeth.



Grinding your teeth can also cause recession. Grinding causes tooth movement which allows pressure to be applied on the gum tissues and blood flow is interrupted, eventually resulting in breakdown and recession. Treating the bruxism will help prevent further recession.


Bad Bite

As with bruxism, the recession is caused by the application of excess forces to the teeth and its surrounding tissues. Your dentist will evaluate your bite and make recommendations to prevent further recession.


Oral Habits

Some people develop habits that can damage the tissue of the mouth. Nail biting, pen chewing, and aggressive toothpick use can all cause recession.


Defective Dental Work

Bulky margins can collect plaque and cause inflammation and gum recession. Sometimes, in the case of a deep cavity, for example, a restoration must be placed below the gumline. If it gets too close to the bone, bone loss and recession can occur.


Systemic Disease

Some diseases, like diabetes, have early oral signs. Gum inflammation and recession is one of them.


How Do You Treat Gum Recession?

Great. Now we know the causes of gum recession. What do we do about it? Recession is not reversible, so addressing it early is very important. In many cases, once the cause is identified, it can be eliminated with no further treatment required. Take the case of misaligned teeth, for example–once the teeth are straightened, the cause of the recession has been removed. The same is true for aggressive brushing, oral habits, and smoking. In the case of grinding, age, and periodontal disease, there may always be a risk of recession. In these cases, your dentist will recommend the best course of action for your mouth.


It is important to realize that when dealing with recession, the approach is to treat the underlying cause then the symptoms, which is the recession. Once the causes have been addressed, the tissue can be replaced, if need be.


How Do I Know If I need to Have Treatment?

Depending on how much recession is present, your dentist may recommend a procedure to repair the recession. The recommendation may be made for esthetic reasons or to protect vulnerable roots from decay or periodontal issues. Gum grafting is a way to surgically replace the lost tissue. There are many techniques that can be utilized to assure the best result for your personal situation. Different areas of the mouth may require different treatments. Talk to your dentist about any questions or concerns you may have about your specific treatment!