Understanding Gum Recession: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Gum recession also referred to as gingival recession is a common condition affecting the tissues around the teeth. It can cause sensitivity and be aesthetically unappealing. Avoiding treatment can put you at risk of gum disease and root decay.

There are many reasons that the gums recede, including gum disease and aggressive tooth brushing. Daily self-performed care can help prevent gum disease and thus gum recession without damaging the gum tissue.

Find out what causes gum recession, how it’s treated, and what symptoms to look out for.

gum recession

What Is Gum Recession and What Does It Look Like?

Gum recession is when the edge or the margin of the gum tissue which surrounds the teeth wears away or shrinks back exposing the tooth roots.

As the gums recede the teeth start to look longer. The roots are more yellow in color when compared to the white enamel of the crown on the tooth so the teeth can begin to look more yellow. It may be localized and affect just one tooth or it may affect all the teeth.

Some online sources suggest that gum recession is a form of gum disease, but this is incorrect. However, gum disease is a major cause of gum recession.

Signs of Gum Recession

You know you have receding gums when you notice one or more of the following symptoms

  • Longer-looking teeth
  • Uneven gum line
  • Sensitivity to hot, cold, sweet, or acidic foods and drinks
  • A notch or small bump above the gumline – this is where the root and the crown of the tooth meet. It is called the cementoenamel junction (CEJ) and is used to help measure the degree of recession.
  • Sensitivity when brushing and flossing
  • Bleeding gums
  • Bad breath
  • Plaque retention
  • Root caries (holes in the tooth roots)

Frequency of Gum Recession

Receding gums are very common. According to the US National Survey, 88% of seniors (age 65 and over) and 50% of adults (18 to 64) have one or more teeth affected by gum recession (1).

Gums recede very gradually so many people don’t know their gums are receding.

The number of people affected and the extent of gum recession observed tends to increase with age. For example, one study found that twice as many older people are affected by receding gums. The number of teeth affected increased sixfold (2).

What Causes Gum Recession?

A number of factors can cause the gums to recede. These include

  • Periodontal Disease – a major cause of gum recession
  • Orthodontics
  • Aggressive tooth brushing
  • Oral piercings
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Insufficient dental care
  • Grinding and clenching the teeth
  • Periodontal treatment
  • Misaligned bite
  • Genetics
  • Hormones during pregnancy, puberty and menopause
  • Smoking

Diagnosing Gum Recession

You may be able to tell that your gums have receded when you look in the mirror or when you eat something. However, some people don’t know that their gums have receded.

A dentist can diagnose if your gums have receded during a routine examination. They can tell by looking in your mouth. A dental measure is used to determine the extent of your gum recession.

Can Gum Recession Be Fixed?

Sadly, once the gums have receded they can’t grow back. It is permanent and it cannot be reversed naturally. However, it’s not all bad news. You can prevent it from worsening by treating the cause.

Treating Gum Recession

Many options are available to treat gum recession. The aim of treatment is to address any sensitivity or concerns about aesthetics. Your dentist may also suggest treatment to prevent cavities from developing in the roots of the teeth.

Non-Surgical Treatment

Treatment options include

  • Remove oral piercings
  • Replace or adjust dental prosthetics which trap plaque bacteria
  • Altering the way you brush your teeth – consider an electric toothbrush with a pressure sensor
  • Removable gingival masks, veneers, or composite bonding can be used to disguise the recession
  • Desensitizing agents or varnishes can be applied to the roots to reduce sensitivity
  • Orthodontic Treatment – realigning teeth with clear aligner therapy or braces can reduce the risk of gum recession or make it appear less severe
  • Frenectomy – reduces gum recession caused by a frenal pull
  • Treat Periodontitis – this heals the gums and prevents the risk of further bone loss and gum recession. Treatment includes daily performed self-care or scaling and root planing. In advanced periodontitis, plaque can be removed from the tooth’s roots during surgical procedures. Antibiotics or antibacterial mouthwashes may be appropriate in some cases to eliminate any remaining harmful bacteria.

These treatments will treat sensitivity and prevent further damage and recession.

Following treatment, if you have mild gum recession, your gums will be monitored closely to ensure no further recession occurs.

Surgical Treatment for Gum Recession

As the natural regeneration of the gums is not possible surgical procedures called gum grafts are carried out.

Gum grafts, performed by periodontists are used to treat severe cases of gum recession.

The procedure involves taking donor tissue, often from your palate (roof of your mouth), and placing it over the exposed root surface. The graft tissue is secured into place with sutures and left to heal.

Many gum grafting techniques exist and you may be more suited to one than the other.

It is worth noting that if the original cause of gum recession is not eliminated, gum recession may reoccur.

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Complications – What Happens If You Don’t Treat Receding Gums

If you choose not to treat your gum recession it may affect your periodontal health.

As the gums recede pockets can form between the gum tissue and the tooth/tooth root. This can allow plaque bacteria to accumulate along and below the gum line. This can result in periodontal disease (also referred to as gum disease) which can lead to bone loss, further gum recession, and tooth loss.

Your risk of developing root cavities and tooth sensitivity also increases.

Preventing Gum Recession

You may be able to prevent gum recession from developing or prevent it from getting any worse by avoiding damage to the gum tissue and controlling the amount of plaque and tartar that build up on your teeth.

To do this you should:

  • Brush and Floss your teeth properly
  • The best way to do this is to clean the teeth for two minutes twice daily and floss daily. Use a gum pocket brush or an interdental brush to clean the spaces between your teeth.

Have regular check-ups

Regular check-ups at the dental office can help determine if dental prosthetics, oral piercings, or gum disease are an issue and prevent gum recession before it becomes an issue. A regular scale and polish will help remove plaque from above and below the gum line, treat gingivitis and prevent gum recession.

Stop Smoking

If you smoke consider stopping as it is a major contributor to gum disease and receding gums.


  1. Miller AJ, Brunelle JA, Carlos JP, Brown LJ, Löe H. Oral Health of United States Adults. The National Survey of Oral Health in U.S. Employed Adults and Seniors: 1985-1986. (NIH publication no. 87-2868) Accessed here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3467775/ .
  2. Albandar JM, Kingman A. Gingival recession, Gingival bleeding, and dental calculus in adults 30 years of age and older in the United States, 1988–1994. Journal of Periodontology. 1999;70(1):30–43. Accessed here: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10052768/