At first, receding gums may not sound like such a disastrous affliction, but when one considers the possible causes and consequences of the condition, it suddenly becomes much more than a vanity issue.
In many cases, receding gums are caused by periodontal disease also known as gum disease. Three out of four adults have some form of it. And, in most cases, it doesn’t cause any pain and therefore goes unnoticed. The photo at left shows that recession can also be caused by orofacial lip piercings.
Most common in adults, gum disease starts when plaque, containing bacteria, builds up on the teeth and gums. When the plaque is not removed daily, it produces toxins that irritate the gums. Eventually these toxins destroy the gum tissues, causing them to separate from the tooth (recede) and form spaces called pockets. The pockets hold more bacteria, which only compounds the problem.
In the early stages (gingivitis), marked by red or swollen gums that bleed easily, gum disease is reversible and can be detected by your dentist during regular check-ups. As the disease progresses (periodontitis), it can destroy the bone and soft tissues that support the teeth. Teeth can become loose, fall out or have to be removed by a dentist. In fact, periodontitis is the culprit in 70 percent of tooth loss in adults over 40.
The good news is that receding gums are easily prevented through brushing and flossing daily, eating a balanced diet and visiting the dentist regularly for professional cleanings. Following this simple regimen, adults can look forward to keeping their natural teeth throughout their life.
Copyright 2001, California Dental Association, All Rights Reserved | Clinical photos — Copyright Dr-V.org, 2003, All Rights Reserved
Dr. Eric Vanek, d.d.s
Eric has been a practicing dental surgeon for over 20 years and is the owner of Vanek Dentistry, a family dental practice in Costa Mesa, CA.
Published September 11, 2014. Updated December 15, 2023