The other cause of gingival recession is something you can control: periodontal disease.
Gum disease all starts with plaque, the sticky film that forms on our teeth due to a combination of what we eat and bacteria. When you don't brush and floss properly, plaque eats away at your teeth, leads to cavities and irritates your gums.
Gingivitis is the least severe stage of periodontal disease, characterized by tender gums that bleed when you brush or floss. They're also shiny, much redder and softer than usual, and swollen-looking.
When the gums get inflamed, they move away from your teeth. (The gum turtleneck is now more of a cowl-neck sweater.) Usually, the depth of the little space around your teeth is up to 3 millimeters. (Dental hygienists measure this distance with a periodontal probe.) Four millimeters and greater of pocket depth means there's a problem.
Once bacteria have made their way into this gross gum moat, you need a dentist's help to get rid of it. Your toothbrush simply won't do the trick. What you need is root planing and scaling, procedures in which the roots are scraped clean. Sometimes, antibiotic threads are placed in the areas most affected by bacteria.
If your periodontitis has progressed further, a pocket reduction may be necessary. Your dentist or periodontist has to get a little more physical with your gums, pulling them way back to get at plaque and tartar before placing them where they need to be.
One treatment option may be a soft tissue graft,commonly used for gum recession caused by periodontal disease or thin gum tissue not caused by disease. During this procedure, tissue is taken from the roof of the mouth or nearby thicker gum areas and grafted onto the thinner places to cover exposed roots.
A regenerative procedure may also be employed, applying a substance like enamel matrix derivative to help new bone and tissue form where it's needed. One procedure, developed at Tufts University, involves a collagen membrane combined with a platelet concentrate gel that's dunked in the person's own platelets [source: Tufts University].
There's also a tunneling procedure that's more difficult to perform but doesn't involve a lot of incisions like traditional grafting [source: Brant]. (Click here for a video of the tunneling procedure.)
Which one is right for you? That's a lengthy discussion you should be having with your dental clinician. Luckily, we've got lots more information on the next page to help you prepare.