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Receding gums: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

Receding gums: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

Receding gums is a dental problem where the gum tissue pulls back from the tooth, which exposes the tooth’s root.

Signs of gum recession can include increased tooth sensitivity, loosened tooth, and plaque build-up. If left untreated, this could lead to gum disease and potentially tooth loss.

Mild gum recession typically does not need treatment. However, severely receding gums may require extensive treatment such as deep cleaning of the root surfaces and ultrasonic tooth scaling.

This is a common condition that many people deal with. If treated in its early stages, the receding gums can be stopped or reversed.

Table of Contents

What happens when gums recede?

When gums recede behind the gum line, gaps can form between the tooth and the gum. A person with receding gums may experience some symptoms.

  • Loose teeth may occur due to periodontal disease, and bacteria build up around the teeth and under the gums. As the gum recession worsens, the gum pockets will deepen, thus causing the potential for tooth loss.
  • A person may notice visibly longer teeth. When the gums recede due to periodontal disease, the teeth will appear longer than usual.
  • Exposed roots can increase sensitivity to hot and cold foods such as eating ice cream or drinking coffee. Having exposed tooth roots are often a sign of overly aggressive brushing or periodontal disease.
  • Patients may also experience minor symptoms from receding gums such as chronic bad breath, bleeding gums, tender gums, and red or swollen gums.

Poor oral hygiene habits such as poor brushing or flossing can lead to these problems. More importantly, these symptoms can be early signs of gum disease. Receding gums also puts you at a greater risk of tooth loss or tooth decay.

woman brushing her teeth - how to clean your teeth the right way

Causes of gum recession and risk factors

There are a variety of risk factors and causes that can lead to gum recession:

  • Periodontal disease – Periodontal disease is the primary cause of receding gums and progresses from gingivitis. It begins with bacteria buildup and plaque stuck in the teeth and gums. Over time, it can cause the gums to recede backward. Periodontal disease is when bacteria destroy the gum tissues and surrounding bone that holds the teeth in position. If left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to gum disease.
  • Brushing too aggressively – Brushing too hard can wear down your enamel and cause your gums to recede. Physical wear can also happen from using hard-bristled toothbrushes. It’s crucial to brush at a 45-degree angle and brush gently along the gum line.
  • Poor oral hygiene – Plaque can easily turn into tartar due to poor oral hygiene habits such as a lack of brushing, flossing, and mouthwash. The plaque and tartar develop between your teeth and gums, which causes gum recession. The only way to eliminate tartar is through professional teeth cleaning.
    Age – Most seniors tend to experience some form of receding gums. About 88% of people who are 65 years and older have receding gums in one tooth.
  • Diabetes – Diabetes is a risk factor that can increase the likelihood of gum recession.
    Clenching or grinding your teeth – Grinding or clenching your teeth applies a lot of pressure on the teeth, which causes gum recession.
    Misaligned bite or crooked teeth – When the teeth don’t align properly, too much force can be placed on the gum and its surrounding bone structure, causing gum recession.
  • The use of tobacco products – Tobacco can cause plaque buildup in your teeth and gums, which causes gum recession.
  • Hormone levels – Fluctuating estrogen levels in a woman’s life, such as menopause, pregnancy, or puberty, can lead to increased gum sensitivity.
  • Genetics – Unfortunately, some people are more likely to have gum disease due to genetics. About 30% of the population are predisposed to gum disease even if they have good oral health.


How is gum disease treated?

Mild gum recession can be treated by performing a deep cleaning around the infected area. Depending on its severity, the periodontist assesses the situation and decides the best treatment option. In some cases, antibiotics can be given following the cleaning to prevent further bacteria growth.

However, if the receding gums can’t be treated with deep cleaning due to pockets of bacteria that are too deep or excessive bone loss, gum surgery may be needed to repair the damage and restore the gum tissue and bone loss.


A periodontist will evaluate your gums and teeth to determine the best course of action to take for treatment. The goal is to restore your gums by removing the infection.

They may conclude that antibiotics be prescribed. Some of the medications that a periodontist can prescribe for you include:

  • Antiseptic chips
  • Topical antibiotic gel
  • Enzyme suppressants
  • Antimicrobial mouthwash


Surgery typically occurs as a last resort for receding gums. Typically, there are three options for surgery: open flap scaling and root planing, regeneration, and soft tissue graft.

If mild gum recessions are left untreated in the early stages, gum surgery may be required once the disease progresses.

Open flap scaling and root planing

Flap surgery is a deep cleaning procedure that removes plaque and tartar buildup within the gums. In this surgical procedure, the periodontist will lift and fold the gums to do the cleaning.

They will get rid of the harmful bacteria from the pockets stuck under your gums. Finally, they will securely close the gum tissue over the tooth root. After the root planing, the pockets of bacteria will be removed, and the gums may feel smaller.


Regeneration aims to restore or regenerate the damaged tissue and bone in the affected area. In cases of severe gum recession, the bone that supports the teeth may have been destroyed.

Just like the flap scaling and root planing procedure, the dentist will lift and fold back the gum tissue to get rid of the bacteria.

A regenerative material such as graft tissue, tissue-stimulating protein, or membrane will be directly applied to the affected area.

Once the regenerative material is placed, the dentist will close the gum tissue to secure it over the root of the teeth.

Soft tissue graft

Soft tissue grafting, also called gum graft surgery, is designed to revive the gum tissues or bones around the affected area.

With soft tissue grafting, the periodontist will place a synthetic tissue or bone to assist the gums in growing back. The tissue from under the gum flap and a layer of skin is cut at the roof of your mouth.

These tissues are removed and relocated to be stitched to the gum tissue that surrounds the roots of the teeth. Some dentists will use graft material from the tissue bank rather than the roof of the mouth.

It’s important to note that gum problems can reoccur unless the patient maintains proper oral health care.

Often, the dentist will advise again brushing or flossing on the gum line that was treated until it has healed. Patients are also advised to eat soft and cool foods for a week or two following the procedure.

How to floss your teeth the right way - bespoke smile

How can I prevent gum recession?

Preventing gum recession usually comes down to having good oral hygiene habits. Taking good oral care means seeing your hygienist routinely for deep cleaning and routine checkups.

Many people who don’t maintain proper oral healthcare tend to skip these checkups. However, they are crucial to gum recession prevention. These checkups allow the dentist to spot potential gum problems or early signs of gum disease.

Furthermore, having good habits such as brushing a toothbrush with soft bristles twice a day, using an antibacterial mouthwash, and flossing daily will help dislodge food particles and remove bacteria to prevent tartar buildup.


Are you suffering from receding gums?

If you notice any signs of gum recession it’s essential to contact us immediately so we can begin the process of treating and preventing further damage to your gums.

If you’re experiencing symptoms, or have questions or concerns, please reach out to our dental team.

Written by Dr. Sam Jethwa
Written by Dr. Sam Jethwa

BDS (Lon) MFDS RCS (Edin) PgDip ClinEd (UK)
Areas of expertise: Smile makeovers using ultra-thin porcelain veneers, smile design to restore worn teeth and advanced full mouth restorative dentistry.

“A perfect, natural, or bespoke smile is possible to achieve for anyone. There is no substitute for the feeling of confidence an individual and beautiful smile can give. We have developed techniques, which we teach to dentists across the UK and abroad, to help them better their care in their clinics. I believe in comprehensively treating every patient, to bring them up to absolute health, and then put in place maintenance to avoid patients from recurrent replacements, and further treatment. It is a passion for me to deliver an unrivalled experience and end result, which stands the test of time”