If you have noticed that one or more of your teeth have lost some of the surrounding pink gum tissue so that part of the root surface is now uncovered, you are experiencing gum recession. It's a very common problem — in fact millions of Americans have some degree of gum recession. Fortunately, there are very effective methods of treating it.
Gum recession can be unsightly, but there are more serious concerns. Tooth root surfaces exposed by gum recession can become sensitive to temperature and pressure changes and can decay or wear away. In very severe cases, teeth can actually be lost. That's because gum or “gingival” tissue as it is medically known is supposed to encircle and firmly attach to the necks of the teeth and the underlying bone. This forms a protective barrier that is resistant to the abrasive action of foods during eating, biting and chewing.
Gum tissue is largely made of a fibrous protein called collagen, covered by a layer of another very resilient protein called keratin (nails and hair are also made of it). Yet it is still possible for this tough tissue to lose its grip on the teeth it protects. Here are some of the ways this can happen:
- Ineffective oral hygiene — inadequate removal of dental bacterial plaque (biofilm) with daily brushing and flossing.
- Excessive brushing (and flossing) — too hard, or for too long.
- Habits — holding foreign objects between the teeth, such as bobby-pins, nails etc that press on the gum tissues.
- Oral appliances and ornaments — badly fitting removable partial dentures and orthodontic appliances (braces), or tongue bolts and oral piercings can apply pressure to the gums.
Treatment will depend in part on whether the recession is stable or progressive. For example, an older person might have a few areas of gum recession but there are still adequate zones of attached protective gum tissue and the exposed tooth root surfaces are healthy. In this case, there may not be reason to do anything but monitor the situation. On the other hand, a teenager with a history of fairly rapid gum recession (over a period of months) usually requires immediate treatment. The dental specialty of periodontics (“peri” – around; “odont” – tooth) has developed predictable surgical techniques to deal with recession.
Free Gingival Grafting, for example, involves taking a very thin layer of skin from the palate, where the tissue is identical to gum tissue, and transplanting it to the area where gum has been lost. Both sites will heal in a very predictable and uneventful manner. The free gingival graft is so-called because it is “freed” from the donor (original) site completely. It is crucial to make sure individuals with gum recession correct faulty hygiene habits prior to this (or any) treatment so that they will not jeopardize their future results.
If you are concerned about gum recession, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about gum recession and gingival grafting by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Periodontal Plastic Surgery.”