Like so many subjects in medicine and dentistry, the internet is full of misinformation and misunderstandings around gum recession. Some will say you can grow back gum tissue and others will say you can’t. Some tell you that receding gums are from brushing too hard and others say gum recession occurs from gum disease.
So, this article serves as our best attempt to dispel the myths around receding gums and offer you some support on how to best address gum recession to stop its progression in your own mouth.
Let’s start by laying down some mouth anatomy to help us have a level playing field for this discussion.
Gum tissue anatomy 1.0
Gum tissue is really nothing more than a layer of skin over bone tissue of the upper jaw (maxilla) and lower jaw (mandible).
Gum tissue will stay strong and high on the teeth as long as the underlying jaw bone is intact. In other words, the only reason gum recession occurs is because the bone that supports the gum tissue has withdrawn.
Now, it may be new information for you to consider the fact that bones demineralize and have the capacity to remineralize, too. Turning this fact to our discussion, jaw bone can and does demineralize for various reasons.
So the answer to what causes gum recession is figuring out what are the main factors that cause jaw bone to diminish.
4 main causes of jaw demineralization
There are 4 main factors that cause the jaw bones to demineralize.
(Note: We are specifically focused on jaw bone in this discussion and are for now going to set aside the very common issue of general nutritional deficiency which plays a huge role in the whole process. If you’d like more info on how nutrition plays a huge role in oral health, be sure to check out our recent expert interview titled, How Nutrition Plays a Foundational Role in Stopping and Reversing Gum Disease as well as our free video tutorial series, the 5 Steps to a Healthy Mouth)
periodontal disease (advanced gum disease)
bruxism (clenching and grinding the teeth)
At the risk of stating the obvious, we have jaw bone around all sides of each of our teeth.
However (and it’s a big however within this subject of gum recession), the layer of bone tissue on the facial (outside) surface is very, very thin and even non-existent in some people (according to our friend, Dr. Al Danenberg, a dentist who has specialized in the treatment of gum disease for the past 40+ years).
This increased thinness of jaw bone tissue on the facial (outer) side of our teeth plays a very key role in understanding what causes gum recession.
The path to getting ‘long in the tooth’…
As you can guess, this demineralization process of the jaw bones doesn’t occur overnight.
The bone becomes demineralized first but the overall structure of the bone remains intact. Again according to Dr. Danenberg, so long as the ‘scaffold’ of the jaw bone remains in place, the bone can remineralize (assuming the cause has been effectively addressed).
However, once the scaffold-like structure of the bone also demineralizes, the gum tissue no longer has the supportive structure to remain high on the teeth. Interestingly, this bone loss does not immediately cause the gum to recede.
However, at this point, the gum tissue is very vulnerable to recession. Without the underlying support of the bone to keep it in place, any aggravation can provoke the gum tissue to recede.
It is at this point when the underlying bone has diminished that brushing unconsciously can most definitely cause gum recession to occur.
So, how do we stop gum recession?
To stop our gums from receding, we must first identify what’s causing the underlying bone to demineralize. (Again, we are going to temporarily set aside general nutritional deficiency which is a very common contributing factor to this puzzle. We will address this in a separate article soon.)
Given that gum disease is so incredibly common in our modern times, it’s worthwhile to assume one has an active infection unless you are really, really sure. Recent research published in the Journal of Dental Research states that 47% of 30-year-olds and over 70% of 65-year-olds have periodontal disease.(1) Mind you, periodontal disease is gum disease that has advanced to the point where the jaw bone is being compromised.
You see, in the mouth, the ‘bad bugs’ implicated with gum disease not only directly destroy bone tissue, but they also cause our immune system to go on ‘full alert’. In an attempt to stop the infection, one of the defense mechanisms our immune system uses is to create inflammation in the localized region. The problem is when this infection is chronic, this leads to chronic inflammation in the area which also contributes to a breakdown in jaw bone health.
We created a free resource, the OraWellness Mouth Map, to help you determine if gum disease is actively undermining your health.
Incidentally, while we can’t claim that our HealThy Mouth Blend cures gum disease, we have so many testimonials from thrilled, happy customers all over the world who no longer have bleeding gums or the chronic bad breath associated with gum disease. They attribute their improved oral health to using our HealThy Mouth Blend and Bass toothbrushes and applying the strategies we teach here at OraWellness.com.
Bruxism (grinding and clenching)
Also, recent research on the cause of grinding one’s teeth is bringing to light that our culture’s understanding of why some people grind their teeth may be incorrect.
While the stresses of modern lifestyle may still play a role, researchers are finding that night grinding is very strongly associated with mild sleep apnea.
In fact, we interviewed one expert, Dr. Mark Burhenne, a dentist who specializes in patient sleep issues, to detail out the relationship between bruxism, undiagnosed sleep apnea, and chronic fatigue. If you grind your teeth, you owe it to yourself to listen to this fascinating ‘mystery’ connection that’s just beginning to make its way into medicine and dentistry.
Whatever the cause of bruxism, it’s clear that habitually clenching and grinding our teeth most definitely leads to a breakdown of the strength and structure of the jaws.
It goes without saying that we want to avoid smacking our faces into anything hard as the trauma of one accident literally can change the course of a person’s entire life. We have lost count of the number of people who have reached out to us asking what can be done for their child/teen who did something reckless and traumatized their front teeth.
Gums and teeth like to be massaged. They like to be stimulated. But they don’t like to be smashed around.
According to Dr. Danenberg, the thickness of the facial jaw bones may be a matter of genetics. Just like we are all born with variations like thicker skull bones, fine or thick hair, etc. how thin your jaw bone is may have a genetic component. We liken this to asking “what generation of Pottenger’s cats are you?”
Some people may even be born with a complete lack of jaw bone tissue on the facial surface.
Like we stated above, if/when the facial jaw bone diminishes, the gum tissue that was being supported by that bone tissue becomes very at risk of recession.
We think a logical question to ask at this point is…
“So, can I regrow the gum tissue I’ve already lost to recession?”
And we have to be careful how we answer this question. Here’s why…
If you’ve been reading our blog for a bit, you know we prefer to stay very ‘solution oriented’ with our focus. While there’s plenty to cry foul about in the dental industry, rather than put our voice to talking about all the dark, gloomy stuff in dentistry, we much prefer to share solutions of how each of us can navigate to greater oral health.
The last thing we want to do is take the wind out of someone’s sails who plans to regrow their gum tissue. Bottom line, we are constantly learning new information and believe miracles happen all the time.
In fact, as many of you know, if Susan had listened to that dentist’s advice at the fateful dental appointment when she was diagnosed with periodontal disease, OraWellness may never have been born.
So, with that introduction in place… To our knowledge, once gum tissue has receded, that means that the bone has diminished. And once the bone has diminished, the gum tissue can only recover to the current ‘height’ of bone tissue. Yes, the bone tissue can remineralize, however, our understanding is the bone won’t ‘regrow’ back up to its original ‘height’.
The good news is that bone tissue can remineralize. So, if you have loose teeth (which is a very common sign of advancing gum disease), taking care of the problem will allow the jaw to remineralize and your teeth can tighten back up in your mouth. If you have loose teeth, our HealThy Mouth System has helped thousands of people around the world keep their teeth, effectively address periodontal disease (in the comfort of their own home) and navigate to greater oral health.
And please (PLEASE) email us if you succeed in regrowing receding gums. We will most definitely scream praises and share how you did it with the world.
Now that you understand the real cause of gum recession, it makes sense that we want to take steps to support optimal bone remineralization.
Here’s a link to ‘part 2’ of this discussion, How to Stop Receding Gums.
May your bright healthy smile bless your life and the lives of those around you each and every day. Aloha!
Helpful, Related Resources:
How Nutrition Plays a Foundational Role in Stopping and Reversing Gum Disease [expert interview]
What your Receding Gums May Be Telling You [expert interview]
5 Steps to a Healthy Mouth [free video tutorial series]
The First Step to Dental Self Empowerment [article and free resource]
4 Reasons Why Brushing Is So Important [article]
4 Steps to Help Your Kids Live a Cavity Free Life [article]