When it comes to gum recession there is a lot of misinformation and misunderstandings out there in internet land and even in the way dentists have been taught on this topic itself. Depending on what you read or who you speak to the information is confusing and often contradictory: some of it tells you can can’t grow gums back than others say you can, and then when it comes to the causes of receding gums you’re brushing too hard or its because you have gum disease. But is there more to receding gums than that?
In this blog Dr Rachel Hall, Evolve Dental’s holistic dentist will help dispel the myths around receding gums and offer support on how to best address gum recession to stop its progression in your own mouth.
To understand why gums recede it’s important to know a little biology and anatomy so let’s start looking at what makes up your gums.
Gum anatomy basics
Your gums are really nothing more than a layer of skin over the bone of the jaws. The gum tissue will stay strong and high on the teeth as long as the underlying jaw bone is intact and healthy. In other words, gum recession will occur if the bone that supports the gum tissue has withdrawn or is damaged or destroyed due to inflammation, infection or trauma.
So the answer (in part) to what causes gum recession is figuring out what are the main factors that cause jaw bone to diminish.
4 main causes of jaw bone changes
There are 4 main factors that cause the jaw bones to shrink or demineralize:
1. periodontal disease (advanced gum disease)
2. bruxism (clenching and grinding the teeth)
(Note: this discussion is specifically focused on jaw bone and does not factor in the very common issue of general nutritional deficiency which plays a role in the process.)
In a healthy mouth, we have jaw bone around all sides of each of our teeth, like a sleeve covering our arm. However, in some people, this covering of bone is not of even thickness on all sides. Often the layer of bone on the outer lip or cheek side surface can be very, very thin or non-existent in some people.
This thinness of jaw bone tissue on the facial (outer) side of our teeth plays a very key role in understanding what causes gum recession.
Getting ‘long in the tooth’
The process of loss or demineralization of the jaw bones doesn’t occur overnight.
The bone becomes demineralized first but the overall structure of the bone remains intact; so long as the ‘scaffold’ of the jaw bone remains in place, the bone can remineralize (assuming the cause has been effectively addressed).
However, once the scaffold-like structure of the bone also demineralizes, the gum tissue no longer has the supportive structure to remain high on the teeth. Interestingly, this bone loss does not immediately cause the gum to recede.
At this point, the gum tissue is very vulnerable to recession. Without the underlying support of the bone to keep it in place, any aggravation can provoke the gum tissue to recede.
It is at this point when the underlying bone has diminished that brushing incorrectly or too hard can most definitely cause gum recession to occur.
How to stop gum recession?
To stop gums from receding, you must first identify what’s causing the underlying bone to demineralize or shrink.
Gum disease is so incredibly common in our modern times, it’s worthwhile to assume you have an active infection. Recent research published in the Journal of Dental Research states that 47% of 30-year-olds and over 70% of 65-year-olds have periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease is gum disease that has advanced to the point where the jaw bone is being compromised and destroyed by bacterial infection.
The ‘bad bugs’ implicated with gum disease not only directly destroy bone tissue, but they also cause our immune system to go on ‘full alert’. In an attempt to stop the infection, one of the defense mechanisms our immune system uses is to create inflammation in the localised region. The problem is when this infection is chronic, this leads to chronic inflammation in the area which also contributes to a breakdown in jaw bone health.
If you have bleeding gums, bad breath, sore gums, receding gums, loose teeth or teeth that are drifting out of position then you must get your gum health properly assesses and treated by a dental professional as these are the common signs of gum and periodontal diseases.
Bruxism – Teeth grinding and clenching
Recent research on the cause of teeth grinding is bringing to light that our culture’s understanding of why some people grind their teeth may be incorrect.
While the stresses of modern lifestyle may still play a role, researchers are finding that night grinding is very strongly associated with mild sleep apnea.
If you grind your teeth, you owe it to yourself to find out more about this connection that’s just beginning to make its way into medicine and dentistry.
Whatever the cause of bruxism, it’s clear that habitually clenching and grinding our teeth most definitely leads to a breakdown of the strength and structure of the jaws.
Imagine rocking a fence post from side to side on a regular basis – eventually the soil opens up around it and the fence post gets loose. Now apply this analogy to clenching a grinding your teeth night after night – the teeth rock in the tooth socket leading to bone loss and bone damage and hence gum recession.
It goes without saying that we want to avoid smacking our teeth and faces into anything hard as the trauma of one accident literally causes irreversible damage. Gums and teeth like to be massaged gently with your toothbrush, they like to be stimulated, not smashed around so don’t brush too hard or carelessly if you want to protect your gum structure.
The thickness of the facial (outer) jaw bones may be a matter of genetics. Just like we are all born with variations like thicker skull bones, fine or thick hair, etc. how thin your jaw bone is may have a genetic component. Some people may even be born with a complete lack of jaw bone tissue on the facial surface so they have gum over tooth only.
If/when the facial jaw bone diminishes, the gum tissue that was being supported by that bone tissue becomes very at risk of recession.
Can I regrow the gum tissue I’ve already lost to recession?
Currently to my knowledge, once gum tissue has receded, that means that the bone has diminished. And once the bone has diminished, the gum tissue can only recover to the current ‘height’ of bone tissue. Yes, the bone tissue can remineralize, however, my understanding is the bone won’t ‘regrow’ back up to its original ‘height’. And hence you can’t regrow the gum as there is no support structure for it to grow back over.
The good news is that bone tissue can remineralize. So, if you have loose teeth (which is a very common sign of advancing gum disease), taking care of the problem will allow the jaw to remineralize and your teeth can tighten back up in your mouth.
Now that you understand the real cause of gum recession, it makes sense that we want to take steps to support optimal bone remineralization. This will be a discussion for a future blog so be sure to look out for How to Stop Receding Gums on this site.
If you are concerned about the health or your gums or teeth then call us today to book a consultation.