We don’t tend to give our gums—the pink, mucosal tissue that protects and holds in place our teeth—much thought. Not, at least, until something goes wrong—something like receding gums. It’s a common problem, but left unchecked, can cause serious issues. Keep reading to learn more about receding gums, and how using an electric toothbrush can help prevent or treat the symptoms of gum recession.
What are Receding Gums?
Receding gums—also known as gingival recession—refers to a condition in which the recession or loss of gum tissue exposes the roots of the teeth. When gums recede, gaps—often called “pockets”—open up between the teeth and gumline, fostering the growth of disease-causing bacteria. Though gum recession is most common in adults over forty, it can also begin in childhood or adolescence.
Causes of Receding Gums
The causes of gingival recession are myriad, relating to lifestyle and oral hygiene habits, genetics and health conditions. Causes include:
- Periodontal (gum disease), resulting from poor oral hygiene that leads to gum-damaging bacterial build-up, inflammation and recession.
- Improper brushing and flossing technique, such as overbrushing (applying too much pressure) and aggressive flossing.
- Bruxism—prolonged and excessive clenching of the jaw and grinding of the teeth, most commonly occurring as an unconscious activity during sleep.
- A hereditary predisposition to gingival recession, resulting in weak, thin or inadequate gum tissue.
- Acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis—a sudden, non-contagious gum infection that causes pain, bleeding gums and ulceration of gum tissue between the teeth.
- Crowded or otherwise abnormally positioned teeth, which prevent insufficient jawbone coverage.
- Physical trauma, from accidents, injury or the habitual biting of nails, pens, pencils and other hard, sharp objects.
- Lip and tongue piercings that rub against and wear down gum tissue over time.
- Regular exposure to stomach acid (which may also damage tooth enamel) as the result of frequent vomiting.
- A dental procedure called intentional gingival retraction, which involves cutting gum tissue to allow an adult tooth to grow out. Malnutrition – in particular, scurvy, which is a chronic vitamin C deficiency.
Symptoms of Receding Gums
With the exception of physical trauma or acute infection, gum recession is usually a slow, progressive and, if left untreated, chronic condition. Gingival recession’s slow rate of progress means it often goes unnoticed until symptoms occur.
Some symptoms can be seen or felt—for example, teeth which appear abnormally long, have changed in colour or become two-toned, feel notched at the gumline, have visible roots, or seem to have increasingly large spaces between them. Gum recession can cause tooth mobility—loose teeth which can be moved back and forth—and hypersensitivity to sweet, spicy and sour foods, or hot or cold beverages. Such sensitivity is caused when dentin tubules (tiny channels which transmit stimuli to the centre of the tooth) become exposed.
Receding gums may also allow cavities to form below the gumline, where plaque (a sticky, acid-producing bacterial film) can become lodged. Other symptoms, including halitosis (bad breath) and bleeding and swollen gums may be present in cases of gum recession caused by gingivitis (gum inflammation).
How to Treat Receding Gums
They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Though it may not be possible to completely prevent the onset and progress of gingival recession, many preventative measures can be taken, and should be part of any treatment plan.
Poor oral hygiene or improper brushing and flossing technique—both of which can lead to gum disease—are a leading cause of receding gums. Ensure that you brush every day, at least twice a day, for a dentist-recommended two minutes each time – preferably with an electric toothbrush. Brush gently with a soft-bristled electric toothbrush to avoid damaging gum tissue and abrading enamel. Floss with only enough force to reach between teeth and dislodge food particles.
The damaging effects of bruxism can be lessened significantly by wearing a custom-moulded mouth guard. Such guards are formed to the wearer’s teeth, and made of soft material that protects teeth and gums against grinding.
Dietary changes may be helpful. If your gums are inflamed and prone to bleeding when flossing, you may consider avoiding foods that become stuck between your teeth, lessening the need for aggressive and repeated flossing, as well as reducing your consumption of acidic beverages, which can damage enamel, and significantly worsen gum recession. Always follow acidic beverages with plain water.
If preventative measures, improving your oral hygiene habits, and dietary changes aren’t enough, it might be time to consider other options. Start by seeing your dentist—they’ll work with you and a periodontist (a dentist that specializes in identifying, preventing and treating gum disease) to determine the best course of action.
Less severe cases of receding gums can be treated with scaling and root planning—a non-surgical periodontal therapy. Scaling and root planning involves removing plaque and tartar from the periodontium (the tissues which support the teeth), eliminating the source of disease and inflammation.
Patients with advanced gingival recession may be candidates for gum grafting—a type of periodontal plastic surgery, involving the repositioning and grafting of gum tissue or dermal (skin) matrix, from the patient’s own mouth, or from a donor. In some cases, bone graft material may be infused with platelet derived growth factor—a protein that regulates cellular growth and division—creating an “ortho-filler” that provides superior integration with a patient’s own bone and gum tissue.
How an Electric Toothbrush Can Help
Compared to a manual brush, electric toothbrushes are easier to use, more versatile, and provide superior results. And some—like Oral-B’s Pro electric toothbrushes —may be particularly helpful in preventing or improving receding gums.
The Oral-B Pro oscillates, rotates and pulsates. Those three movements occur simultaneously (something which could never be achieved with a manual toothbrush), and work in tandem to first break apart and loosen, and then sweep away stubborn plaque—even around the gumline, where many toothbrushes struggle to reach.
As the name implies, Oral-B’s Pro includes a CrossAction brush head. The CrossAction brush head’s bristles are arranged in clusters that cross each other at 16 degree angles. That arrangement allows the bristles to reach deep between teeth and remove the acid-producing plaque that can damage sensitive gum tissue.
Gingival recession often results from years of poor brushing technique—like overbrushing (applying too much pressure), or brushing for an inadequate length of time. Oral-B electric toothbrush helps correct those bad brushing habits. An integrated pressure sensor—located on the brush handle—lights up red, and the brush momentarily ceases operation when excessive pressure is applied. This feature not only prolongs the life of the brush head, but helps protect your teeth and gums.
Dentists recommend brushing for a full two minutes—but it’s easy to get distracted or stop short of the recommended time without your eyes on the clock. The Pro electric toothbrush features Oral-B’s ProTimer—not only does it help you brush for two minutes—it buzzes every thirty seconds, reminding you to move onto the next quadrant of your mouth. Brushing evenly, and for a long enough length of time, can help prevent and reduce the symptoms of gingival recession.
In addition to Daily Clean, Whitening and Sensitive brushing modes, the Pro Models CrossAction includes a Gum Care mode—specifically designed to stimulate gum tissue, improving blood flow and gently removing plaque without damaging inflamed or receding gums.
The good news about receding gums is that they are often the result lifestyle choices and poor oral hygiene habits—things that are never too late to change. Brush and floss properly, every day, at least twice a day. Avoid sticky foods and acidic beverages. See your dental health professional regularly—and consider the Oral-B Pro 4000 CrossAction electric toothbrush.