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Causes of gum recession and what you can do about it

Known as gingival recession, a receding gum line raises the risk for infections, tooth loss, decay, and disease.

Unfortunately, gum recession is an all too common problem. Poor dental health combined with bad habits can wear away or push back the gum line. This exposes the soft pink tissue that protects the roots of teeth. While this typically arises as people age, it may also occur for those in their teens.

There are a number of factors that contribute to the development of receding gum lines, and even people with good oral hygiene are susceptible to it. Understanding the causes can give you the information needed to take proactive measures to fight off the onset of gum-line recession.

Here are causes of gum recession, along with steps you can take to prevent and treat it:


Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums caused by an accumulation of plaque on the teeth.

Poor dental hygiene, such as infrequent or improper toothbrushing and flossing, leads to a buildup of bacteria on teeth. The worse the oral care, the greater the plaque accumulation, which causes gingivitis.

Gingivitis makes gums red and puffy, and simply brushing your teeth may make your gums bleed when suffering from it. Mild cases of gingivitis might go unnoticed for some time, which can lead to larger oral health problems, such as gum recession.

Periodontal diseases

If left untreated, gingivitis can lead to periodontitis. While proper oral hygiene can oftentimes resolve gingivitis, this isn't the case with periodontitis.

Periodontal disease is a much more severe form of gum inflammation or even gum infection. While gingivitis may lead to periodontitis, you can develop periodontitis without previously having gingivitis.

Periodontal disease destroys gum tissue and the bones that support the teeth. When this starts to happen, it can form a gap in between the teeth and gums. This gap then traps more food particles, which can further exacerbate infections and decay.

Aggressive tooth brushing

This might seem counterintuitive, but it's true: aggressive tooth brushing can damage your gum lines and cause them to recede. This is especially true for those who use hard-bristled toothbrushes. Brushing too vigorously, especially with a hard-bristled brush, wears away at the gum line and can even remove tooth enamel.

Genetic factors

For some people, the risk of gum recession is unavoidable. Genetics do play a role in a person's biological predisposition toward receding gums. Certain people will just naturally have gums with more delicate pink tissue than normal. This means there's a greater risk for plaque build-up to cause inflammation in the gum line.

While the presence of gum recession in previous generations of family members doesn't necessarily indicate you will succumb to it, there is a chance it might be a signal. According to WebMD, about 30 per cent of people are predisposed to gum disease.

Regardless of this statistic, other behavioural factors still contribute to a receding gum line, so even if you're genetically predisposed to gum disease, it's important that you continue to maintain good oral hygiene and care for your teeth.

Hormonal changes

On average, gum conditions tend to affect men more often than women. However, this doesn't include pregnant women, who are actually extremely prone to gum problems. This stems from heightened hormonal increases in pregnant women. The hormones uptick creates an ideal environment for bacteria to thrive in the mouth, which allows plaque to flourish. This expansion of dental plaque can lead to gum disease and gum recession.

Insufficient dental care

Regular dental care helps protect your gum line with cleaning and careful inspection. The lack of regular visits to the dentist means your gums are not getting the care and attention they need.

Smoking and tobacco use

It should probably come as no surprise, but using tobacco products, whether cigarettes, cigars, or chewing tobacco, can also increase the risk for receding gums. Tobacco usage restricts blood flow to the gum line, lowering the amount of oxygen and nutrients streaming in and the amount of carbon dioxide clearing out. In addition, tobacco use also creates more plaque on teeth, which, as noted above, can lead to gingivitis and periodontal disease if left untreated.

How to prevent a receding gum line

Caring for your teeth is the first step to avoiding a receding gum line. This includes brushing your teeth for a minimum of two minutes at least twice a day and flossing. Food particles stuck between teeth are one of the main causes of periodontal or gum disease, which lead to receding gum lines.

Using a soft or ultra-soft toothbrush can also reduce the chances of damage caused by aggressive tooth brushing. When brushing, use gentle, repetitive motions to clean away tartar and plaque without damaging the gum line or enamel.

Smoking tobacco also serves as a major catalyst for gum recession. Not smoking remains a key defense against a receding gum line.

How to treat a receding gum line

Treatment for a receding gum line depends on the severity of the recession. A dentist can potentially perform a deep cleaning to treat mild gum recession in the affected area. This procedure utilises tooth scaling and root planing techniques to remove plaque and tartar built up around the teeth and below the gum line. The roots are smoothed out to deter more bacteria from settling and growing there. In some instances, a dentist might administer antibiotics to kill off additional bacteria.

Unfortunately, sometimes gum lines recede to the point where a deep cleaning won't suffice. In these cases, surgery becomes necessary to remove the harmful bacteria from the pockets created by gum recession. There are also procedures to induce lost bone and tissue regeneration.

Gum recession is no walk in the park, but with daily oral care, regular dental visits, and the right behaviour, you can do your part to avoid succumbing to receding gums or gum disease.