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Aging and Receding Gums

Dental care is important throughout life because we keep our adult teeth for many decades — sometimes a long as 90 years or more! But how exactly does aging affect teeth and what are common problems seen as we age? And what can be done to stop the hands of time from negatively impacting our oral health?

The third and final installment in our series about aging and dental health covers receding gums, and what can be done to correct the problem.

Gum recession occurs when the margin of the gum tissue surrounding the teeth pulls back or wears away. This exposes more of the tooth, which is essentially its root. This is often one of the first signs of gum disease, as the pockets or gaps formed between the teeth and gum line make it easy for bacteria to build up and cause problems such as gingivitis. Without treatment, early gum disease can easily become periodontitis, which can result in severely damaged tissue and bone structures of the mouth, including tooth loss.

The thickness of our gums is hereditary. Some people have better luck here than others, but the fact is that most people with gum recession have it due to the way they take care of their teeth over time. Years of plaque buildup and aggressive brushing wear away at the gum line, giving it a peeled-back (or recessed) appearance. Plus, aging decreases the flow of saliva (often resulting in clinical dry mouth), which helps to wash away plaque-causing bacteria and adds to the odds of developing gum disease that eats away the delicate gum tissue.

Other contributing factors to receeding gums include:

– Insufficient dental care, both at home, and by a professional dental care provider. – Fluctuations in female hormone levels during a woman’s lifetime, such as in puberty, pregnancy, and menopause, which can make gums more sensitive and more vulnerable to gum recession. – Use of tobacco products which increases the levels of sticky plaque that is difficult to remove, which can cause gum recession. – Clenching or grinding teeth which puts excess force on the teeth, causing gums to recede. – Crooked teeth or a misaligned bite, which can create pressure on the gums and bone, allowing gums to recede.

But truly, one of the biggest problems is simply incorrect brushing. Brushing the right way is the key to good dental health, and gums that don’t start to recede prematurely. Here’s how you do it:

Twice a day (or more), use a soft-bristle toothbrush (NEVER FIRM — this may seem like a good idea, but it can cause quite a bit of damage to both enamel and gums) to gently clean teeth, using a circular motion, along the front, back, and sides. Brush your teeth in quadrants, for 30 seconds each. Be sure to floss daily as well because floss cleans areas your toothbrush can never hope to reach.

If you have severe gum recession, there are surgical treatment options available, including pocket-depth reduction, regeneration, and soft tissue grafts. Your dentist can determine what type of procedures would be most suitable for your situation.

If you have receding gums and would like to know how you can best address this issue, give our Ann Arbor dental office a call at 734-677-2156 or contact us via our website for more information or to schedule a free consultation.

– Dr. Shannon Norman-Kotre, Ann Arbor dentist


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