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Gum Recession

By James T. Ubertalli, DMD, Private Practice, Hingham, MA

Gum recession is the loss of gum tissue from the base of a tooth with exposure of the root of the tooth.

Recession usually occurs in response to overaggressive toothbrushing but can also result from injury or the natural aging process in thin, delicate gum tissue. Most people have some slight recession.

Recession may make the teeth very sensitive to cold, to sweet foods, or to touch. It may be accompanied by bone loss and may make the teeth more vulnerable to root cavities.


  • Desensitizing toothpastes

  • Special toothbrushing technique

  • Sometimes a grafting procedure

Treatment of gum recession is needed when the gums or teeth are sensitive or when plaque (a filmlike substance made up primarily of bacteria) accumulates and is difficult to remove.

For people with mild recession, dentists may apply a substance that makes the gums less sensitive. They advise people to use a desensitizing toothpaste or other gentle toothpaste that does not contain the harsh abrasives present in common tartar control or whitening toothpastes. People are also instructed to use a soft-bristle toothbrush and a special brushing technique that helps clean the teeth at the gumline. The technique involves gently moving the bristles back and forth at a 45-degree angle to the teeth. Such measures keep the recession from worsening but do not cure it.

For people with more severe recession, treatment involves a grafting procedure, in which soft tissue removed from the roof of the mouth or commercially processed donor skin tissue is stitched to the area.

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