Being “long in the tooth” is an expression we’ve all heard and derives from the observation that as we get older we can appear to have longer teeth (where’s that mirror?).
A common complaint in adults that have seen the back of their 40th birthday is that their gums start to recede, this exposes more of the tooth and gives the appearance of long teeth.
Well, it may be a sign of ageing, but not all older people are affected; it can be a sign of something else going on. In many cases receding gums are caused by gum disease or simply brushing too hard.
Brushing too hard can be avoided by using a modern power toothbrush; these devices have pressure sensors that alert you if you’re applying too much pressure when brushing.
Regardless of age, gum recession is a condition that sort of creeps up to on us without our realising or noticing. If you are vigilant and make regular physical and visual checks on your teeth you can save yourself a lot of trouble further down the line.
What to look out for
- Are your teeth becoming more sensitive, particularly to hot or very cold food?
- Can you see or feel a ‘notch’ at the gum line on any of your teeth?
- Do any of your teeth look longer than they use to do?
- Is the part of the tooth near the gum line a darker colour than the rest of the tooth?
Causes of Receding Gums
As gum disease takes hold and progresses it becomes a leading cause of receding gums. When plaque is not removed daily it produces toxins that irritate and inflame the gums.
Eventually the inflammatory process starts to destroy the gum tissue, causing the gums to separate from the tooth. In the early stages, gum disease is marked by red or swollen gums that bleed easily when brushing or flossing.
The second cause of receding gums is not brushing properly; you may need to check out this post for tips on how to brush your teeth.
Brushing too hard or using a toothbrush that is not soft enough is also a common mistake. Years of brushing teeth too roughly damages the soft gum tissue. Over time, this rough handling causes the gum tissue to become irritated and pull away from the tooth.
If you are an aggressive brusher you should desist, stop, halt, give yourself a slap; if that fails you should maybe try an electric toothbrush. They allow you to just hold the brush against the teeth to work their magic; thereby breaking the habit of sawing back and forth. The specially designed small brush heads on power toothbrushes can help you to clean your gum line more easily than a manual toothbrush.
Some people have a genetic predisposition to receding gums because their gums are naturally thin. The thickness of the gums is an important determinant of the chance of gum recession.
If you have some prominent or crooked teeth you are also more likely to suffer more recession on those teeth more than the others. Take extra special care to brush any crooked teeth that are set back from surrounding teeth; they can be easily overlooked if you are not concentrating when brushing.
Problems caused by receding gums
- The teeth can become sensitive and hot and cold drinks or food
- Decay of the exposed tooth root
- Bone loss and possible tooth loss
This is a problem you have to keep on top of, when a tooth reaches 4mm of recession it is very likely to get worse if not dealt with.