You've heard of skin grafts, bone grafts, even tree grafts...but gum grafts? Many patients have never heard of this common oral surgery--that is, until they find themselves in need of the procedure. Used to treat severe gum recession, grafting replaces unhealthy gum tissue with healthy tissue taken from elsewhere in the mouth. Sometimes the gum tissue in need of replacement isn't just unhealthy: it's completely absent, exposing the root of the tooth and contributing to potential bone loss.
What causes gums to recede?
Gum recession is largely hereditary, and age can play a huge part as well. However, a number of factors may cause recession--or, at the very least, cause gums to recede faster than expected. Your risk of severe recession increases if you:
- Have ever had braces or other orthodontia
- Suffer from periodontal disease
- Grind your teeth a lot, especially in your sleep
- Brush and floss too hard, too often
- Whiten your teeth frequently (including the use of whitening strips)
- Have a severe overbite or misshaped/damaged teeth
Other well-known factors that contribute to tooth decay--smoking cigarettes, chewing tobacco, consuming sugary or alcoholic foods/beverages--can also harm the gums.
What are the treatment/prevention options?
Aside from gum grafts--which are only necessary if the area becomes painful, infected, or unsightly--there are a few ways you can treat or prevent receding gums at home. Consider these ideas to forestall your visit to the oral surgeon:
- Know your family history. If mom or dad have gum problems, you have higher odds of inheriting the same issues.
- Get regular dental check-ups and cleanings. Inquire about scaling and root planing, both of which can be used to clean underneath the gum-line--and, in the process, identify potential problems affecting your gum tissue.
- Wear a dental night-guard, which your dentist can customize for you. Night-guards lessen the damage caused by excessive grinding and shearing.
- Try some natural remedies. Gargle with warm salt water or 3% hydrogen peroxide, both of which have antibacterial and healing properties. Bee propolis--the glue that hold beehives together--can also have similar benefits. (Just make sure you're not allergic to bee-stings.)
- Avoid sugary foods and beverages, which can worsen decay and periodontal disease.
- Buy only soft toothbrushes, and don't brush--or floss--too hard, too often. This is one of the most common-sense causes of gum recession--brushing harder won't get your teeth cleaner!
If your gum-line is already starting to recede, see your dentist. You may need to be referred to a specialist for a minor grafting or gum surgery procedure.