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Gum Recession
Dr. Leyli Valera, DDS - San Jose, CA

Gum recession is a common dental problem in which gums pull back from their natural line, exposing areas of the tooth, such as the root structure, that are normally protected. In many cases, gum recession is easily addressed with the help of a dentist and some simple changes to your brushing routine. However, if left untreated for a long period of time, it can turn into a more-serious problem.

Gums do not regenerate once they are lost, but when gum recession starts causing pain or sensitivity, patients do have options. With either bonding treatment or with surgery, the newly exposed areas of the teeth are covered, reducing sensitivity and keeping teeth protected.

Dr. Valera recommends two strategies for people worried about gum recession. First is prevention. By using a soft-bristled brush and not brushing too hard, most people will be able to avoid gum recession before it starts. Second is to see your dentist regularly. Dr. Valera checks for gum recession at every checkup, so keeping on a twice-yearly cleaning schedule will ensure that she catches early warning signs before any serious problems develop.

Common Questions about Gum Recession

What causes gum recession?

Many things—from harmful habits to genetics—can lead to gum recession. The most common cause is brushing too hard, a chronic problem that damages gums over time. Gum recession can also be the result of past orthodontic work, overcrowded teeth, a misalignment in a person’s bite, grinding or clenching, or having one tooth that is biting too hard in one area. Gum recession can also be a sign of gum disease.

How much gum recession is normal?

Dr. Valera says almost every patient she sees has some degree of gum recession, and it is often not an issue. However, that doesn’t mean it’s normal or should be ignored. Because gum recession can be the start of something problematic, it’s best to go to the dentist if you notice your gums receding so they can identify the cause and prevent the problem from worsening.

Is gum recession hereditary?

Just like some gum disease is hereditary, gum recession can be caused by your genes as well. In these cases, regular checkups will help your dentist monitor your gums and flag any potential problems right away.

Is gum recession normal with age?

Absolutely. In the same way that people develop wear on their teeth over the course of their lives, there will also be wear on gums over time. This can be due to a person’s genetic makeup or habits that affect the gums slowly over the years. Regular dentist visits will ensure that it’s not progressing too fast.

Is gum recession dangerous?

Dr. Valera says gum recession is typically not something to worry about. Extensive gum recession can cause bone loss, and that can lead to tooth loss in the long run. If it gets severe, gum recession can also become a general health issue. However, most of the time, it is easily addressed, and seeing a dentist regularly should keep any serious problems from developing.

When should I see a dentist about gum recession?

If you are a regular patient and come in twice a year for cleanings, you’re already on the right track. Dr. Valera checks periodontal health with every cleaning and notifies her patients if she spots anything concerning. But if you haven’t been to the dentist in a while and notice that some of your teeth look bigger, see any abrasions on your teeth, or are experiencing sensitivity to cold water, it’s a good idea to get checked out. A dentist will be able to identify the source of the problem so it can be treated effectively early on.

Is gum recession reversible?

Past a certain point, gum recession is not reversible by simply stopping the habit that is causing it. But through bonding procedures or surgery, a periodontist can provide protection for the sensitive parts of the tooth again.

How is gum recession usually treated?

Dr. Valera’s approach to treatment is very conservative. She starts by recommending that patients use a non-abrasive toothpaste, like Sensodyne, and a soft-bristled brush. In many cases, that is all that’s needed to keep gum recession from worsening.

If that doesn’t help, she might recommend grafting surgery, in which tissue from one part of the mouth is used to cover the areas that are exposed. A possible alternative to this is to put a small amount of bonding on the affected areas. This doesn’t bring the gum back, but it covers the areas that are exposed and can reduce sensitivity.

When does gum recession require surgery?

Surgery is only required if gums recede past a certain point, if a person is experiencing a lot of sensitivity, or if they’re not aesthetically happy and feel that recession is affecting their smile. Dr. Valera knows that every patient is different, and she believes her job is to educate them about their dental health, present them with all available options, and come up with a plan they’re comfortable with.

What is recovery like for gum recession surgery?

Gum recession surgery is an outpatient procedure that’s usually performed by a gum specialist or periodontist. People may feel some discomfort after surgery, and limiting their diet to soft foods can help with that. Recovery times will depend on every patient’s individual situation, but it can take up to a few weeks to get back to eating all foods.

Is gum recession surgery covered by insurance?

Surgery is usually not covered by insurance, but this will vary from plan to plan. Bonding typically is covered.

How can gum recession be prevented?

The best way to handle gum recession is to keep it from developing in the first place. Some people think firm-bristled brushes do a better job of cleaning their teeth. However, firm bristles and hard brushing can actually do damage to gums over time. Dr. Valera recommends using a non-abrasive toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush to avoid putting too much pressure on your gums.

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