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What happens when your gums recede (and can they grow back?)

The roots of our teeth and the jaw bone that the teeth are seated in are covered and protected by the gums. In a healthy mouth the gums are tight and firm around the teeth. When the gums recede, they ‘shrink back’ and expose the root surface of the teeth. This can lead to problems like sensitivity to temperature, sweet foods and touch (brushing, eating, pressure), increased risk of tooth decay, longer looking teeth, gaps in between the teeth leading to the appearance of black triangles and food packing, loose teeth and decrease in confidence and self-esteem.

Once the gums recede, like bone loss they cannot ‘grow back’ but there are solutions to help rectify this problem depending on the cause.


The tooth structure is made up of 3 layers: the enamel, which is the outermost white layer that covers the crown of the tooth, the dentine layer which sits underneath the enamel and covers the root surface, and finally the pulp which is the inner part of the tooth where the nerves are. When recession occurs the dentine layer is exposed. This layer is naturally yellow in colour and contains microscopic holes in the surface. These holes allow stimulus from temperature and sugars to reach the nerve which leads to sensitivity.

Tooth decay
Tooth decay is caused by plaque bacteria in the mouth feeding off the sugars in food and producing acids that dissolve the enamel surface of the teeth. This leads to a hole or ‘cavity’ developing in the tooth surface. If not treated this cavity will get bigger causing pain and possible nerve damage and can lead to tooth loss. When gum recession occurs, the affected tooth will be more vulnerable to developing tooth decay. This is because the exposed root surface dentine is porous and more delicate. It is important to maintain good oral hygiene to reduce this risk.

Longer looking teeth
The tooth is made up of the crown, the part that is visible in the mouth above the gumline, and the root, which sits below the gumline anchored inside the jawbone. When the gums recede the root of the tooth becomes exposed and this can give the appearance of longer looking teeth. You may have head the expression called looking ‘long in the tooth’. This can be a problem as it alters the aesthetics of the smile and can affect confidence.

Black triangles and food packing
The natural shape of the tooth is generally wider at the crown and becoming narrower towards the root. When recession occurs, gaps can appear between the teeth as the gum shrinks back to expose the narrower parts. The space between the teeth is generally triangular thus giving the look of black triangles. This can be considerably more noticeable towards the front of the mouth. These spaces can trap bacterial plaque and food which can lead to bad breath, gum disease and tooth decay. It is important to keep these spaces clear by regularly cleaning with interdental aids in the form of brushes and floss.

Loose teeth
Not in all circumstances, but in many, recession is a result of bone loss caused by periodontal disease (severe gum disease). In moderate to severe cases the bone loss is enough to cause the affected teeth to become loose. If this is not treated effectively the teeth can be lost.


Gum disease
Gum disease is an infection of the soft tissues surrounding the teeth, and when not treated the underlying bone supporting the teeth can be destroyed, ultimately leading to tooth loss. When the bone is lost this often leads to recession as the gum shrinks back to meet the level of the bone.

Aggressive brushing
Many people are led to believe brushing hard is required to clean the teeth. This is not true as bacterial plaque is a soft sticky substance. A manual or electric toothbrush with soft to medium bristles and a gentle technique for at least 2 minutes twice daily is sufficient to keep teeth clean. If plaque is not removed effectively this can develop into tartar or calculus which cannot be removed with brushing alone. This is when an appointment with the dentist, hygienist or therapist is required for professional removal. Brushing too hard can cause trauma to the gums resulting in recession.

Similar to brushing too hard, trauma from picking the gums can cause recession. Clenching or grinding can also put excessive force on the dental tissues causing the gums to recede.

A family history of gum disease can lead to susceptibility to recession.

Gum recession, as well as causing discomfort, can affect confidence and self-esteem. There are ways to combat this problem and the options can be discussed with the dentist.

Gum grafts can be performed by a specialist oral surgeon or periodontist where tissue from another part of the mouth can be transplanted to the areas of recession with great results.

Gingival veneers
A gingival veneer is a special type of ‘denture’ made from silicone or acrylic to replace the missing gum where recession has occurred. This is a minimally invasive option for patients who do not want to undergo surgery and involves having moulds of the mouth sent to a lab to make the appliance.

Composite Bonding or Veneers
To help improve the aesthetic of longer looking teeth, veneers, usually made from porcelain, can be made to fit on the surface of the teeth and fill in the gaps caused by recession. Similarly, a special resin or composite material can be applied to the teeth and shaped to improve the appearance and give a more even attractive smile. Both options are permanent but need to be maintained well with good home care and regular dental visits to keep the appearance long term.

If you’re concerned about receding gums or would like more information, please call us on 020 3411 7735 to speak with our friendly team or fill out our contact form.