Gingival recession or gum recession is a dental condition characterized by shrinking gums, which expose the roots of the teeth, potentially creating a variety of oral health problems. A patient may experience the onset of gingival recession at any time, with most cases starting between the late teens and the early 40s. Left untreated, gingival recession can have serious consequences, as the patient may start to lose dentin, an important part of the teeth, and the exposed roots may become tender, sore, or infected, causing immense pain.
There are a variety of causes for gingival recession. One common cause is gum disease, which causes gum loss by inflaming and irritating the gums. The symptoms of gum disease are usually evident before the problem reaches the stage of gum loss, especially in the case of a patient who receives regular dental care, so preventing gingival recession caused by gum disease is possible. Some gum recession is also normal with age.
This condition can also be caused by aggressive oral hygiene, or inadequate oral hygiene. People who brush vigorously with stiff toothbrushes can cause gingival recession, as their gums are damaged by the brushing, and people who do not brush and floss enough may cause gum loss through inflammation and infection, even if no gum disease is present. As a general rule, soft to medium toothbrushes are best, unless a dentist specifically recommends a hard toothbrush, and if brushing causes bleeding or tenderness, a dentist should be consulted.
Sometimes, gingival recession is not the fault of the patient. On occasion, the structure of the mouth simply predisposes someone to gingival recession, as for example when the muscles of the mouth are thick at their attachment point to the gums, or when teeth fail to develop enough to support a thick padding of gums. Orthodontic work such as braces can also sometimes cause gingival recession, typically because the patient was predisposed to it already.
When a dentist notices signs of gingival recession, the first step is usually to try to prevent it from getting any worse. The dentist may also recommend regular follow-up visits to keep an eye on the patient's gums, so that he or she can intervene if the gum recession appears to be proceeding rapidly.
If gingival recession is caught early, it is sometimes possible to prevent it with changes in diet and oral hygiene. In other cases, however, a more extensive measure may be needed. Gum graft surgery can be used to replace missing or severely damaged tissue; after gum grafts are performed, a patient is typically given very specific care directions to ensure that the gum grafts take, and that they will stay healthy for life.