If you’ve noticed some of your teeth seem to be “longer” than you remembered, it’s not because they’ve grown. Rather, your gums have shrunk back or receded to expose more of the underlying tooth.
It’s not just unattractive — gum recession could lead to severe consequences like bone or tooth loss. But before we begin treatment we need to find out why it happened. Knowing the true cause will help us put together the right treatment plan for your situation.
Here are 4 of the most common causes for gum recession and what we can do about them.
The kind of gum tissues you have. There are two kinds of risk factors: those you can control and those you can’t. Because you inherited the trait from your parents, your gum tissue thickness falls into the latter category. Although there are degrees within each, gum tissues are generally classified as either thick or thin. If you have thin tissues, you’re more susceptible to gum recession — which means we’ll need to be extra vigilant about caring for your gum health.
Tooth position. Normally a tooth erupts during childhood in the center of its bony housing. But it can erupt outside of it, often resulting in little to no gum tissue growth around it. The best solution is to move the tooth to a better position within the bony housing through orthodontics. This in turn could stimulate gum growth.
Over-aggressive brushing. Ironically, gum recession could be the result of brushing, one of the essential hygiene tasks for dental health. Consistently brushing too hard can inflame and tear the tissues to the point they begin to recede. Brushing doesn’t require a lot of force to remove plaque: use gentle, circular motions and let the detergents and mild abrasives in your toothpaste do the rest.
Periodontal (gum) disease. This, by far, is the greatest cause for gum recession: an infection caused by built-up bacterial plaque. The weakened tissues begin to detach from the teeth and recede. Gum disease can be treated with aggressive plaque removal and supporting techniques; but it’s also highly preventable. Practicing daily brushing and flossing and regularly visiting your dentist for thorough cleanings and checkups are the best practices for keeping your gums as healthy as possible.
If you would like more information on gum recession, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Gum Recession.”
It’s National Gum Care Month. Let’s a moment to talk about why it’s so important to take care of your gums.
Gum disease affects almost half of adults over age 30 and approximately 70 percent of adults over age 65. The first stage of gum disease is called gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums. With gingivitis, gums can be red and puffy, and bleed easily when brushing or flossing. If gingivitis is not treated, it can progress to periodontitis, where the structures supporting the teeth, including the bone, begin to break down and be lost. Advanced stages of gum disease can lead to tooth loss and general health problems.
The good news is that gum disease is treatable — and early gum disease is even reversible. So what can you do to take care of your gums?
- Be diligent about your oral hygiene routine at home: Your first line of defense is your oral hygiene routine at home. Brush your teeth gently morning and night, using a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Brushing too vigorously can harm your gums and cause them to recede. It is also important to floss every day to dislodge plaque that can build up between the teeth and around the gum line.
- Come in for professional dental cleanings and exams: Schedule regular professional cleanings to remove the plaque that is hard to reach. If plaque is not removed, it can harden to form tartar (or “calculus”). Only professional cleanings with special dental tools can remove tartar. When plaque and tartar form below the gum line, your bone that supports the teeth may be at risk. We can examine your mouth above and below the gum line to detect and monitor any signs of gum disease and recommend appropriate treatments.
We are always happy to talk with you about how to maintain the health of your gums. Remember that early gum disease is very treatable, so take care of your gums, and they’ll take care of you!
You can learn more about gum health in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Daily Oral Hygiene.”
When you’re among the top players in your field, you need every advantage to help you stay competitive: Not just the best equipment, but anything else that relieves pain and stress, and allows you to play better. For top-seeded Canadian tennis player Milos Raonic, that extra help came in a somewhat unexpected form: a custom made mouthguard that he wears on the court and off. “[It helps] to not grind my teeth while I play,” said the 25-year-old up-and-coming ace. “It just causes stress and headaches sometimes.”
Mouthguards are often worn by athletes engaged in sports that carry the risk of dental injury — such as basketball, football, hockey, and some two dozen others; wearing one is a great way to keep your teeth from being seriously injured. But Raonic’s mouthguard isn’t primarily for safety; it’s actually designed to help him solve the problem of teeth grinding, or bruxism. This habitual behavior causes him to unconsciously tense up his jaw, potentially leading to problems with muscles and teeth.
Bruxism is a common issue that’s often caused or aggravated by stress. You don’t have to be a world-class athlete to suffer from this condition: Everyday anxieties can have the same effect. The behavior is often worsened when you consume stimulating substances, such as alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and other drugs.
While bruxism affects thousands of people, some don’t even suspect they have it. That’s because it may occur at any time — even while you’re asleep! The powerful jaw muscles that clench and grind teeth together can wear down tooth enamel, and damage both natural teeth and dental work. They can even cause loose teeth! What’s more, a clenching and grinding habit can result in pain, headaches and muscle soreness… which can really put you off your game.
There are several ways to relieve the problem of bruxism. Stress reduction is one approach that works in some cases. When it’s not enough, a custom made occlusal guard (also called a night guard or mouthguard) provided by our office can make a big difference. “When I don’t sleep with it for a night,” Raonic said “I can feel my jaw muscles just tense up the next day. I don’t sense myself grinding but I can sort of feel that difference the next day.”
Â An occlusal guard is made from an exact model of your own mouth. It helps to keep your teeth in better alignment and prevent them from coming into contact, so they can’t damage each other. It also protects your jaw joints from being stressed by excessive force. Plus, it’s secure and comfortable to wear. “I wear it all the time other than when I’m eating, so I got used to it pretty quickly,” said Raonic.
Teeth grinding can be a big problem — whether you put on your game face on the court… or at home. If you would like more information about bruxism, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Stress & Tooth Habits” and “When Children Grind Their Teeth.”
Here’s a sobering statistic: you have a 50/50 chance over your lifetime for developing periodontal (gum) disease. And it’s much more serious than irritated gums: if not treated aggressively you could experience bone loss, which can not only lead to tooth loss but actually increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Initially, you may not notice any symptoms unless you know what to look for: mainly red and puffy gums that frequently bleed during brushing and flossing. As the infection advances into the underlying support structures that hold teeth in place you may also notice receding gums (moving away from your teeth causing them to look longer), pus around the gums or lingering bad breath or taste. And one or more loose teeth are a definite sign the supporting structures have weakened severely.
So, how does gum disease happen? It starts with bacteria. Your mouth contains millions of these and other microorganisms, most of which are friendly and even beneficial. Unfortunately, a fraction of them can infect and harm tissues like the gums and underlying bone. Your mouth’s defenses can normally handle them if their numbers remain low. But a bacterial population explosion can quickly overwhelm those defenses.
Bacteria are like any other life form: they need a secure environment and food. Disease-causing bacteria establish the former by utilizing proteins and other components of saliva to form a sticky biofilm on teeth known as plaque. Within the safe haven of dental plaque bacteria quickly multiply and form a complex and concentrated ecosystem feeding on remnant food particles, especially sugar and other carbohydrates.
The key to gum disease prevention (as well as treatment) is to deprive bacteria of their home and food source by removing plaque and its more hardened form calculus (tartar). You can manage plaque buildup by brushing and flossing daily, seeing your dentist regularly for cleanings to remove any remaining hard-to-reach plaque and calculus, and eating a nutritious diet with fewer sweets or other carbohydrate-rich snacks.
You can further lower your disease risk by avoiding smoking and other tobacco products and moderating your consumption of alcohol. And be sure to see your dentist as soon as possible if you notice any signs of infection with your gums. Taking these steps can help you avoid gum disease’s destructiveness and help preserve a healthy and attractive smile.
If we could go back in time, we all probably have a few things we wish we could change. Recently, Dr. Travis Stork, emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors, shared one of his do-over dreams with Dear Doctor magazine: “If I [could have] gone back and told myself as a teenager what to do, I would have worn a mouthguard, not only to protect my teeth but also to help potentially reduce risk of concussion.”
What prompted this wish? The fact that as a teenage basketball player, Stork received an elbow to the mouth that caused his two front teeth to be knocked out of place. The teeth were put back in position, but they soon became darker and began to hurt. Eventually, both were successfully restored with dental crowns. Still, it was a painful (and costly) injury — and one that could have been avoided.
You might not realize it, but when it comes to dental injuries, basketball ranks among the riskier sports. Yet it’s far from the only one. In fact, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), there are some two dozen others — including baseball, hockey, surfing and bicycling — that carry a heightened risk of dental injury. Whenever you’re playing those sports, the ADA recommends you wear a high-quality mouth guard.
Mouthguards have come a long way since they were introduced as protective equipment for boxers in the early 1900’s. Today, three different types are widely available: stock “off-the-shelf” types that come in just a few sizes; mouth-formed “boil-and-bite” types that you adapt to the general contours of your mouth; and custom-made high-quality mouthguards that are made just for you at the dental office.
Of all three types, the dentist-made mouthguards are consistently found to be the most comfortable and best-fitting, and the ones that offer your teeth the greatest protection. What’s more, recent studies suggest that custom-fabricated mouthguards can provide an additional defense against concussion — in fact, they are twice as effective as the other types. That’s why you’ll see more and more professional athletes (and plenty of amateurs as well) sporting custom-made mouthguards at games and practices.
“I would have saved myself a lot of dental heartache if I had worn a mouthguard,” noted Dr. Stork. So take his advice: Wear a mouthguard whenever you play sports — unless you’d like to meet him (or one of his medical colleagues) in a professional capacity…
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