Do you remember looking at pictures of teeth? They may have been in a public health TV show, a school text book, or the walls of the dentist’s office. The pictures usually depicted a cross-section of a tooth, labelling the different parts.
If you looked keenly at those pictures, or if you studied your own tooth before offering it up as a sacrifice to the tooth fairy, you might have noticed the sharp fork-like prongs at the bottom of the tooth. There are usually two or three of them, and they have jagged surfaces, sometimes with bits of dried blood.
These prongs are the roots of your teeth, and you don’t usually see them unless there’s something very wrong. In fact, you shouldn’t see them at all unless your tooth is outside your mouth. So if you look in the mirror and see the roots of your own teeth, it’s not a good sign.
When the roots of your teeth become exposed, it means you have gum recession. Other signs that your gums have receded to harmful levels might include sensitive teeth, inflammation, bleeding, or halitosis.
The last three symptoms might suggest you have an infection like gingivitis or periodontal disease. These two infections can cause gum recession, pulling your gums off your teeth as the germs attack your tissues and blood vessels.
A slightly less worrying symptom is when your teeth suddenly seem too long, and your smile looks ‘toothy’. It suggests your gums have ridden down your teeth, and this sagging could lead to more serious oral health problems.
A lot of patients experience mild gum recession, so it’s important to have regular check-ups so that it can be spotted early and treated before it gets worse. The worst case scenarios of receding gums can lead to tooth rot, tooth loss, and lethal blood infections.
Receding gums are technically referred to as a gingival recession. Ironically, it can be caused by over-brushing. If you clean your teeth too often, especially if you use a hard toothbrush, it can harm and weaken tissues, leading to bleeding, tissue irritation, swelling, and recession.
At the other extreme, if you don’t brush your teeth at all, or if you use a poor brushing technique, then your mouth will accumulate tartar and plaque, which leads to recession and infection. Patients who live with conditions like diabetes have a higher risk, so they need to be extra attentive to their oral hygiene routines.
The risk presented by diabetes happens because sugars are not optimally digested as a result of insulin challenges. At the same time, diabetics have narrower blood vessels that affect circulation and glucose distribution. These two factors lead to excess sugars in the mouth, which can cause recession, infection, and rot if the teeth are not well taken care of.
Another common cause is harsh, over-the-counter whitening gels and creams. They work by eroding the stained surface of your teeth. Think about how abrasive these products need to be to scrape stains off your teeth, then think how rough that abrasive force is on your gums.
The position of the teeth can also have an effect. The teeth that are closer to the front of your mouth are usually thinner, and their bone anchors are lighter as well. These teeth are more exposed to the action of your tooth brush, and as a result, the gums are handled a little more firmly and frequently during brushing and flossing, increasing their chances or recession. Chewing tobacco is particularly harmful as well.
Treatment options for gum recession depend on what caused the problem in the first place. Using softer bristled brushes and brushing less frequently will ease swelling and overstimulation. If you haven’t been brushing or flossing at all, you need to start. If you’re diabetic, you need to limit your processed sugar intake and stick to fruit and vegetables.
When the damage is really bad, you may need surgical intervention in the form of a soft tissue graft. A donor sample is taken from your upper palate on the mouth roof, inner lip, or from the gum itself. This tissue is then transplanted and sutured to raise the gum line.
Lasers can be used to harvest the tissue graft. They make a quicker, cleaner cut that heals faster and reduces chances of swelling and infection. It’s a lot less painful than analogue scalpel harvesting and needs minimal stitching to close the wound. Laser dentistry is also helpful in reshaping the gum after the graft has been positioned and attached.
If you notice that your teeth are bleeding when you brush or floss, or if you see disturbing stains in the apple you just bit into, pay a visit to the dentist to investigate any potential gum damage and repair it before it gets worse.
Image courtesy of photographic1980 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net