Gum recession is a major concern in overall oral health. When our gums recede, our teeth are more sensitive, more prone to decay, and less structurally sound. But what causes gum recession? Well, there are several factors, and more often than not, more than one of these factors is coming into play.
The most prominent risk factors of recession are gum disease, heavy brushing, clenching/grinding, and teeth that are leaning or out of position. The latter three reasons are topics for another day. Today, we are going to focus specifically on how gum disease causes the most concerning type of gum recession.
Now, you may be thinking, the title of this blog post is “The Impact of Flossing on Gum Recession,” NOT “The Impact of Gum Disease on Gum Recession,” but I think it’s helpful to think of them as one in the same. There are a small handful of people who live their entire lives without flossing once and never develop gum disease, but they are the exception and not the rule. For most of us, if we aren’t regularly stimulating our gum tissue and disrupting the growth of plaque and tartar between our teeth by flossing, it’s just a matter of time before we develop gum disease.
To understand what gum disease is, I find it helpful to imagine our gums as a turtleneck surrounding each tooth. When the inner depth of that turtleneck of gum tissue is 2-3mm, your toothbrush and floss are able to effectively disrupt and sweep away all of the bacteria hiding in that pocket. However, if we go a few days without brushing or flossing, the plaque, food, and bacteria that settle inside that turtleneck create irritation and swelling.
As the gum tissue around your teeth swell, it creates what I like to call a false pocket which means that the depth of the turtleneck increases, not because the bottom of the pocket moves lower, but because the top of the turtleneck grows higher. That increased pocket depth is all that the bacteria needs to begin thriving. Most of the bacteria that worsens gum disease are anaerobic, meaning they thrive in an environment with no oxygen. As the pocket around each tooth gets deeper, efforts with your toothbrush and floss are less and less effective at reaching and expelling that harmful bacteria.
If gum disease is not caught early and properly treated by your dentist or hygienist, the false pocketing I mentioned earlier turns into true increases in pocket depth, also known as attachment loss. This occurs when the bacteria at the base of the pocket is left for extended periods of time and starts to work its way down the tooth’s roots, stripping away the gum attachment as it goes. This is often accompanied by more upward swelling of the gum tissue, which means that the pocket depth is worsening in two directions. So, as the attachment loss of the gum tissue to the root surface gets worse and worse, the symptoms of gum recession get more and more pronounced. I often get asked if gum recession is reversible. The short answer is no, it is nearly impossible to regain attachment once it’s lost. Some surgeries can be performed, however, to make areas of recession less noticeable.
So, if gum recession is irreversible, what path should a person with gum disease take? The first thing to do is schedule an appointment with a reputable dentist. The dentist and hygienist will evaluate your teeth and gums and put together a comprehensive plan to address each area of concern. If you have gum disease, it’s more than likely that they will recommend gum infection therapy (AKA scaling and root planing or deep cleaning). During this process, specialized instruments are used to flush out and kill all of the bacteria at the base of your gum pockets. This will jumpstart a healing process that will reduce and hopefully eliminate the swelling in your gum tissue.
The ultimate hope is that the turtleneck of gum tissue around each tooth returns to a depth of 2-3mm so that your at-home brushing and flossing can effectively disrupt and remove the bacteria from your pockets each day. But as I said earlier, attachment loss is irreversible, so even if your gums return to a healthy state following gum disease, you will likely still have recession and exposed roots. If you experience sensitivity due to exposed roots, try a sensitivity toothpaste, like Sensodyne Pronamel. If that doesn’t help, talk to your dentist about in-office treatment options like Seal & Protect.
The best thing that you can do to treat gum recession as it relates to gum disease is to floss regularly. Flossing is about way more than just popping a string in and out of your contacts. In order to effectively disrupt and remove the majority of the harmful bacteria residing between your teeth, you need to conform your floss to the contours of your teeth. If you’re using traditional floss, this can be accomplished by moving your floss in a C-shape between your teeth. However, no product on the market does this better than the Slate Electric Flosser. The Gum Sweeps on either end of the floss strand are shaped perfectly to fit the space in between your teeth. It even has strategically placed ribs and bristles to scrub your teeth and massage your gums at the ideal angle. If you’re worried about gum disease and gum recession and want to do all you can to prevent it, switching to a Slate Electric Flosser is the perfect place to start. Try it today! You won’t regret it.