The phrase looking ‘long in the tooth’ is often used to describe someone who is a little older as gum recession can occur with advancing age. This doesn’t mean it has to happen, as receding gums is often a sign of gum disease.
How Does Gum Disease Cause Gum Recession?
Gum disease is a common condition caused by a bacterial infection and normally occurs as a result of poor oral hygiene. Everyday plaque builds up over your teeth and gums and this is a sticky biofilm that contains bacteria. If you have a good oral hygiene routine, much of this plaque will be removed during regular brushing and flossing. If it remains then the bacteria within plaque will soon begin to infect your gums.
As the gums become infected, they also become inflamed as the body tries to fight the bacteria. Unfortunately, the result of this inflammation is gum recession, and as the gums begin to pull away from the teeth. This often creates deep pockets in between the tooth and the gum tissue. These are called gum pockets or periodontal pockets and can create substantial problems.
Firstly, they provide the ideal breeding ground for even more bacteria to thrive. Secondly, these gum pockets can get pretty deep so it can get tricky to clean with an ordinary toothbrush. This allows the infection to build up so the gum pockets can become even deeper. Eventually, this affects the bone surrounding teeth and can lead to tooth loss.
Treating Receding Gums
If your gums have receded then don’t despair as there are lots of different treatments that can help. The best thing to do is to visit a periodontist like a specialist for a comprehensive periodontal evaluation. This will determine the extent of the disease and the damage it has caused.
What Happens during a Periodontal Evaluation?
A comprehensive periodontal evaluation is a way for a periodontist to fully assess the health of your gums. During this assessment, a periodontist will look at your teeth, your gums, your jaws and the way your teeth bite together. He will also assess your level of plaque. The level of infection within your gums can be assessed by gently probing them with an instrument called a periodontal probe.
This measures the depth of the periodontal pockets and is a good indication of how far the disease has progressed. Normal healthy gums only have a depth of between 1 mm and 3 mm, depths of this level could indicate a problem. The periodontist may wish to take x-rays or will carry out other diagnostic tests to determine the extent of the infection. Also to help find whether it has affected other structures surrounding your teeth, including ligaments and bone.
Planing Your Treatment
Using this information, a periodontist can determine the best course of treatment. The main priority will be to reduce the bacterial infection in your gums. This can be done in a number of different ways. The most straightforward treatment is called scaling and root planing. This is one way of deep cleaning badly infected gums.
Scaling and Root Planing
This procedure can be highly effective and may be recommended as an ongoing treatment. Although it’s likely to be combined with other treatments in order to get a severe infection under control. The easiest way to imagine scaling and root planning is being a deep cleaning treatment for your gums. Although it is quite similar to a normal hygiene treatment, where your teeth are scaled and polished, scaling and planing take things much further.
By this stage, it is likely that gum recession will have caused your tooth roots to become exposed. The exposed roots are also scaled before being smoothed or planed. The idea is to remove as much of the infection as possible. It’s also to make it harder for bacteria to recognize the periodontal pockets.
After this treatment, you will need to pay more attention to your oral hygiene as this will help your gums to heal. This is so they can begin to fit more tightly around your teeth, reducing the depth of the periodontal pockets.
Another way to treat badly infected gums is to use laser dentistry. This is a highly effective way of removing bacteria and can sterilize the areas treated by scaling and root planing. A dental laser is also a very gentle and extremely precise way of removing tissues that are too badly damaged to heal. Afterward, the gum tissues should be able to heal more easily. Especially as the gum pockets shrink, enabling the gums to fit more tightly around the teeth.
Periodontal Pocket Reduction
This procedure may be used to treat deep pockets that cannot easily be cleaned at home. During this treatment, your gum tissue will be folded back which will allow a periodontist greater access right into the gum pockets. They can then concentrate on removing the bacterial infection and any badly damaged tissues that will not be able to heal. Any areas of bone that have been damaged by bacteria can be smoothed which makes it easier for the gum tissue to reattach itself to the healthy bone.
Repairing Receding Gums
Even though scaling and root planing, as well as other gum treatments, can be highly effective in reducing infection, the newly healed gums may still have badly receded. This still leaves you looking long in the tooth. This is where gum grafting could be useful and is a highly specialized technique to replace lost gum tissue. To do this, gum tissue may be taken from elsewhere in your mouth.
It’s quite common for gum tissue to be taken from the roof of your mouth and to be grafted into place. Another technique involves cutting away gum tissue from nearby the affected area and pulling it into a position. This is so that it still remains attached at one end, but can be stitched into place.
The pedicle graft, this technique is only suitable for people who have quite a bit of gum tissue available in the area requiring treatment. The advantage of opting for gum grafting is that it will help to protect exposed tooth roots. Thus creating a more aesthetically, pleasing appearance.
Once you have had severe gum disease it’s important to be vigilant and to keep up with any ongoing periodontal treatments recommended by your periodontist. Often advanced gum disease is chronic and ongoing treatment will help control the disease, hopefully preventing any further infection.