Teeth Care

Can You Fix Receding Gums?

Can You Fix Receding Gums?

In the past, many people assumed that receding gums was a fact of life, a normal part of the aging process.  That is where we get the phrase “long in the tooth” meaning elderly.  Receding gums are not normal, and they indicate a problem with oral health.  In this article, we will explain why receding gums can happen, what we can do to prevent receding gums and what we can do to repair receding gums after they occur.

What Causes Receding Gums?

When you understand the various causes of receding gums, it helps you take measures to prevent this condition from occurring in your own mouth!  You could have one or more of the causes contributing to gum recession.  Prevention and successful treatment require finding the specific causes present in each person’s recession.

defend your teeth against the daily grind graphic

Gum Disease

By far, the most common cause of receding gums is active gum disease.  Gum disease, also called periodontal disease or periodontitis, is a chronic inflammatory disease affecting the structures surrounding the teeth.  Each tooth root should be completely surrounded by jawbone and covered by gum tissue.

When gum disease persists without intervention, the bacterial toxins in dental plaque spur a response by the body of chronic inflammation.  Chronic inflammation destroys the connection between the jawbone and the teeth roots.  As the bone recedes away from the tooth, the gum tissues follow.  

Gum recession that results from gum disease will worsen over time, and if there is no intervention, you can lose your teeth.

Teeth Clenching and/or Grinding

The heavy forces of clenching and/or grinding can also break the attachment between a tooth’s root and the surrounding tissues.  This can happen in a healthy mouth with no gum disease.  The risk for receding gums under heavy forces worsens when the teeth are misaligned.  

Teeth are designed to withstand heavy chewing forces at precise levels of force and at precise positions and angles on each individual tooth.  Clenching and grinding habits increase the level of force, thus increasing the risk for receding gums.  

Teeth that do not hit their opposing teeth in the right position or angulation have a much higher risk for receding gums.  This is often the case when a person experiences moderate to severe gum recession on an individual tooth.  

Improper Alignment within the Dental Arch

As we mentioned earlier, in a healthy mouth, each tooth’s roots are completely surrounded by jawbone and covered with gum tissue.  It is possible for improper tooth alignment to position a tooth outside of the existing jawbone.  This can happen naturally when there is extreme crowding of the teeth.  It can also happen as the result of improper orthodontic movement of the teeth.  

For example, in an attempt to create a beautiful wide smile, someone may move teeth too far in the direction toward the cheeks so that that side of the teeth does not have bone surrounding it.  This can happen when the teeth are positioned outside the natural area of the jawbone.  It can also happen if the teeth are moved too quickly, not allowing the bone time to rebuild around the root as it moves.

Inappropriate Brushing Techniques

While this is not the most common cause of gum recession, it is possible to damage gum tissues with the wrong type of toothbrushing.  This type of gum recession results from brushing that uses too much force or bristles that are too firm.  Dental plaque is soft and easy to remove from the teeth.  You could actually do it with a washcloth if it would reach all the nooks and crannies on the teeth.  

The bristles serve only to get to those tiny places.  They do not need to be hard in order to scrub away plaque.  You should never use a hard-bristled toothbrush.

Some people may press too firmly with the toothbrush against the teeth and gums.  This can damage the gums and push them away from the roots.

What Can We Do to Prevent Receding Gums?

Most, but not all, gum recession is preventable.  You can certainly lower your risk for receding gums by taking the following measures in your oral care.

Prevent Gum Disease

Gum disease is 100% preventable.  It always begins with dental plaque buildup on the teeth.  With great home care, you can remove the vast majority of dental plaque and prevent it from every producing the bacterial toxins that lead to gum disease.  

The remainder of the bacterial buildup is removed when you have your teeth professionally cleaned by a dentist or dental hygienist.  Professional teeth cleanings on a consistent schedule are essential to the prevention of gum disease.  Not only do they remove all bacterial sources of gum disease; they also provide you with the knowledge and skills you need to perform great oral hygiene at home on a daily basis.

Reduce the Forces of Clenching and Grinding

The subconscious habits of teeth clenching and/or grinding leave visible evidence inside the mouth, so your dentist can tell you if this is occurring.  If there is any evidence of clenching or grinding and any gum recession, you should be wearing a protective mouthguard during sleep.  Dental appliances for clenching and/or grinding are designed to reduce and redistribute those heavy forces so that there is no damage to the supportive structures.

Wearing a hard, custom-made nightguard can prevent gum recession from occurring when the habits of clenching and grinding occur.  It can also stop the progression of gum recession that has begun.

Only See a Board-Certified Orthodontist for any Tooth Movement

Moving the teeth properly requires professional supervision.  Only a licensed dentist or board-certified orthodontist is capable of safely repositioning the teeth in a way that does not increase the risk for gum recession.  You can reduce your risk for gum recession by avoiding any unsupervised tooth movement.

Talk to your dentist about safe ways to straighten your teeth.

Correct Bad Brushing Techniques

Correcting Gum Receding

To prevent gum recession, you must commit to brushing with the correct technique.  Whether you use a manual toothbrush or an electric one, it is essential that you use only the softest bristles.  Rather than using a side-to-side motion, touch the tooth in small circular movements that will gently sweep plaque away from the area near the gums.  

Try not to press too firmly with the brush against the teeth and gums.  If you struggle to lighten your grip, put the brush in your non-dominant hand.  Concentrate on the angle of the brush and the circular movement of the bristles to reduce the risk of damaging your gums with bad brushing techniques.

What Can We Do to Repair Receding Gums?

What if gum recession has already happened?  Once the roots of the teeth are exposed, you may suffer from sensitive teeth, unsightly black triangles between the teeth, and an overly long appearance of the teeth.  These problems can be repaired with dental treatment.

Treat Active Gum Disease

The first step is always to stop the progression of any gum disease.  Without dental intervention, gum disease will always get worse.  You must follow through with the recommended treatment (typically a series of deep cleanings) to stop the active disease.  

Once you reach a stable phase of gum health, you can proceed with any additional treatments necessary to repair gum recession.

See a Periodontist for Gum Grafting Surgery or the Pinhole Procedure

In general, there are two dental treatments for the correction of receding gums.  Gum specialists known as periodontists can perform both.  

In gum grafting surgery, your surgeon uses grafted gum tissue (taken from another area of your mouth) to cover the exposed roots of the teeth.  These surgical procedures have a high success rate when you have already addressed the cause of the gum recession.  

A periodontist may correct some cases of gum recession with a relatively new technique called the Pinhole Procedure.  In contrast the grafting, this procedure uses a small hole in the gum tissues and specialized instruments to reposition the existing gums so that they re-cover the exposed root surfaces.  This procedure is less invasive and also has a high success rate.

What is the Most Important Thing to Know about Receding Gums?

They are not simply a fact of aging.  They are preventable.  It is possible to “fix” receding gums, but the treatments are expensive and invasive.  It is far better to prevent them whenever possible.  Check out our other blog articles to learn more about protective nightguards.


Dr. Lara Coseo

Dr. Lara Coseo, (DDS, FAGD) is a 2004 graduate of Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas, Texas. Having practiced general dentistry for 13 years, Dr. Lara currently serves as an Associate Professor at Texas A&M College of Dentistry.

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medically reviewed by dr. lara coseo, dds
Dr. Lara Coseo, (DDS, FAGD)

Doctor of Dental Surgery
Baylor College of Dentistry

Dr. Lara Coseo earned her Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from Baylor College of Dentistry in 2004, and she was awarded a Fellowship in the Academy of General Dentistry in 2014. Dr. Lara retired from private practice in 2017 after being diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, a degenerative retinal disease causing rapid central vision loss. Even though she is unable to perform invasive dentistry, she remains passionate about patient education and all aspects of general dentistry. She would love to help you build relationships with your patients through web content, blogging and social media.

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