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Why am I losing gums around my teeth so rapidly if my dental health is good?
December 29, 2012 12:22 PM   Subscribe

Why am I losing gums around my teeth so rapidly if my dental health is good?

I'm a 27 year old male. In the past four years, and the past year especially, I've lost a lot of gum tissue around the outer side of my teeth. I can actually see gaps now where none existed previously, and many of the teeth are looking a lot "longer" than they used to.

This worries me. It also confuses me, because I can't seem to pin down a reason. The obvious culprit is periodontal disease, but I've brushed regularly my entire life, and while my flossing wasn't the best, I have been doing it more regularly the past five years or so as well, along with mouthwash. And my mouth looks healthy, as far as I can see. No inflammation or bleeding (save around one canine, which I'll have checked as soon as I can afford another dental visit), everything is pretty white, bubblegum pink (the gums) and healthy. I haven't had a new cavity in years. But my gums are disappearing.

During high school I would have some minor bleeding if I fell behind in flossing, but this would go away fairly quickly once I got back into my flossing again. Now, eight years later, I don't even have enough gum around the teeth to have that issue any more.

I've been mentioning this to my dentists for the past four years with increasing worry, but I never get anything other than "Teeth look great, floss more, brush more gently, use mouthwash." Four years later, after using the softest brush I could find, flossing, and a heck of a lot of mouthwash, some of my lovely white teeth are actually starting to feel loose in their sockets from the lack of gum tissue. Obviously something else is going on here.

Is there some kind of medical or nutritional issue that could be causing this? I suspected a mild form of scurvy for a bit, but I've been pumping myself full of vitamin C for a few months now and there's no noticeably difference. The way things are going I'm afraid I'm going to start losing teeth by 35.
posted by wanderingchord to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
You should talk to a periodontist, not your regular dentist. As for nutrition, if your general nutrition is OK including your vitamin C, then that's not likely the culprit. You may want to avoid highly acidic liquids, or don't hold them long in your mouth (they're bad for your teeth - especially now that your teeth are more exposed). Vitamin D status might be a long shot, get it checked and if low, supplement with some cheap D3. Doesn't sound like you overbrush. But talk to a periodontist and tell them your story.
posted by VikingSword at 12:30 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


as somebody who is facing the same issue, did in her twenties, and is now going to have a like twenty year construction project in her mouth, I urge you to dentist, now.

also, dry mouth might be a factor.
posted by angrycat at 12:31 PM on December 29, 2012


I am not sure but have the same problem. I was told I was brushing too hard and that I shouldn't apply too much pressure. So, I began to brush gentler... but then I started to have more plaque on my teeth and gum problems because I wasn't brushing hard enough.

I now have an electric toothbrush and am much gentler with it, and the recession seems to have stalled.
posted by ninefour at 12:34 PM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I should also add that since I started using an electric toothbrush, I have not had one single cavity. Often I would have one or two at a check-up.
posted by ninefour at 12:35 PM on December 29, 2012


Are you sure you're brushing correctly? After seeing steady receding of my gums despite all my care, I finally asked my dental hygienist to teach me to brush "as if I were a five-year-old." Instead of using words to tell me how to brush, I got her to demonstrate: I stood in front of her with my actual toothbrush on my actual teeth and she critiqued my brushing technique.

It only took a minute or two at the end of my regular exam and cleaning, and was terrifically useful. Turns out I've been brushing wrong for all these years! Since I started angling the brush properly and applying the right (gentler) pressure, my gum erosion has halted dramatically.
posted by Elsa at 12:52 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


You really need to see a periodontist before this really gets out of hand. Really.
posted by michellenoel at 1:02 PM on December 29, 2012


You might need a deep cleaning where they get under the surface of the gums. I agree that you need to see a periodontist. If cost is a concern, reach out to your nearest dental school. Getting long in the tooth is a natural consequence of getting older. I think it's on par with higher cholesterol in that some of it you can control and some of it is genetic. But, like high cholesterol, you can do something about it with professional help. I think there's a procedure where they can take tissue and add it to your gums to minimize the likelihood of tooth loss. These are all things a professional can help you with.
posted by kat518 at 1:13 PM on December 29, 2012


You don't say if you're a smoker but smoking also causes gums to recede. And, yes, see a periodontist.
posted by _Mona_ at 1:34 PM on December 29, 2012


@AngryCat: I'm curious, what caused your problem?

@Mona: Forgot to mention that. Don't smoke, don't drink, don't do any drugs. The worst thing I'm dumping in myself is an energy drink a day. Yes, the acid in those probably contributes, but I'm skeptical that it's the sole problem, and hoping to find something else I can do because cutting them out right now isn't really an option. With the amount of stress I'm under, I won't be able to function without it right now.

@Vikingsword (and others): I did not even realize that "Periodontist" was distinct from "Dentist," so thanks. I may have to look into that, though I doubt I'll be able to afford it. I am (extremely) lucky enough to have basic medical care covered by my local clinic, so they may be able to help me. I'll call as soon as I can and see if there's any chance of seeing someone.

Don't get me wrong, I understand this is serious. If I was still middle class instead of FORMER middle class, I'd just be hopping from doctor to doctor to see if there was anything I could do. Not so much an option now though ( though I will check), and I thought the only real person to ask was a dentist, which I already have to no real benefit. And I have looked into dental schools. Still too expensive in general. I'm living off $1000 a month, and most of that goes right to expenses.

I know a LOT of people brush wrong, and I did too for much of my life (mostly an issue of side-to-side when you should be doing circles). But I shifted away from the wrong technique in the past few years, and yet the problem has actually accelerated. A refresher couldn't hurt though: may as well make absolutely sure I'm doing it right.
posted by wanderingchord at 1:34 PM on December 29, 2012


brushed wrong, used to smoke, I'm on a bunch of meds that give me dry mouth. Also, there are mouthwashes out there that are really good for gum health.
posted by angrycat at 1:43 PM on December 29, 2012


The fact that you do not mention what your pocket depth is concerns me, because that, not how great your teeth look, is the measure of periodontal health. Some dentists do not do routine periodontal probing, even though they should. Is there a dental school nearby? If so, a visit to a periodontist may be much less costly than you think. Please don't be me. I blew off my gum problems for years, and the series of surgeries I ultimately needed were far more expensive than the timely care I resisted.
posted by Wordwoman at 1:46 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


(I will also add that periodontal disease does not always look like the scary pictures you see on the internet. Mine was basically invisible to the naked eye, even though I had significant bone loss.)
posted by Wordwoman at 1:51 PM on December 29, 2012


"Teeth look great, floss more, brush more gently, use mouthwash."

As we age, gums tend to recede somewhat naturally, this is exacerbated muchly by too-vigorous brushing. I am speaking from experience here - I thought I was doing my mouth a favour but no, and worse it made my teeth much more sensitive. I bought a toothbrush for sensitive teeth (much softer), and really concentrated on _gentle_ circular motions, instead of the aggressive up-and-down angle grinder approach I had heretofore taken. It helped a lot.
posted by smoke at 2:01 PM on December 29, 2012


Seconding the dental pocket depth measurements. Your dentist should be checking up on this periodically; if they see anything seriously problematic they'll refer you to a periodontist for a consultation.

I have minor recession all around my mouth primarily due to aggressive brushing, but most of those areas are actually fine even though I can notice a shift in my gumline. I did, however, have gum grafting surgery earlier this year to halt more severe recession on my lower front teeth. My problem there was a combination of genetics (my mom had the exact same problem and had surgery at about the same age I did), anatomy and brushing habits (my lower lip is small and I had a hard time brushing in that area), and orthodontic work that shifted my teeth within my gums (my periodontist said that orthodontic work often contributes to the need for grafting procedures later in life). Those are by no means the be-all, end-all of causes for gum recession, but do you think any of those factors might be coming into play for you?
posted by phatkitten at 2:02 PM on December 29, 2012


>With the amount of stress I'm under...

Clenching your teeth can contribute to gum recession. Pay attention to whether you routinely hold your jaw clenched when you're awake, and if so focus on learning to relax it. My dentist also gave me an appliance to wear at night since I clench my teeth in my sleep, too.
posted by evilmomlady at 2:12 PM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


My gums receded from brushing too much, and incorrectly. Switching to a softer brush and getting a review of technique from my hygienist really helped. Now, years later, I do look a bit "long in the tooth" but my pockets are fine.
posted by not that girl at 2:19 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


About two years ago I had a similar experience of receding gums despite a lifetime of good dental hygiene and health, so I eventually went to a periodontist and they decided on grafting a strip of tissue from the roof of my mouth over a portion of exposed tooth. I had the same questions for them about what I could do differently as far as brushing, eating, drinking, etc. They just shrugged and told me it was probably genetic, which was not encouraging.

It sounds to me like your gums have receded more than mine had. I really encourage you to a periodontist to get this checked out, gums don't grow back and there may actually not be anything you can do to prevent them from receding. My exam and surgery at a private clinic were not covered by insurance and cost ~$1500; you may be able to get a better deal than that and/or work out a payment plan.
posted by eurypteris at 2:22 PM on December 29, 2012


From my mother (dental assistant):

It's probably bone loss. You can lose bone without having cavities and it's not something that brushing alone can fix. See a periodontist and get/use a water pik regularly. It's a pretty serious thing, especially in someone so young. Make an appointment as soon as you can. Basically, unless you can get under the gumline and clean it well (and they can show you how) you're liable to lose bone.
posted by guster4lovers at 5:13 PM on December 29, 2012


Just a note here, regarding the 'Get thee an electric toothbrush, pronto!" responses: I was specifically told by two different dentists NOT to get an electric toothbrush, based on the very same issue of receding gum-lines. Apparently the rigour of electric toothbrushes isn't awesome for these issues.
posted by involution at 5:27 PM on December 29, 2012


Clenching and grinding your teeth at night (bruxism) does this. I myself wish I knew what to do for the bone/gum loss beyond protecting my teeth with a nightguard.
posted by side effect at 7:04 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just to add: aside from my dentist telling me this, etc, I can see this is the cause because of the gum recession being worse in areas I grind/clench more frequently.
posted by side effect at 7:08 PM on December 29, 2012


Sorry for the late response, had a lot going on the past few days. Thanks for the info.

Phatkitten: Interesting that orthodontic work can make it worse, because I had a ton as a kid. So, that sucks.

I don't know my exact pocket depth. I do know they've been checking it, and apparently it's not great around a few teeth, but not alarming yet. I don't know the actual numbers though.

I don't really grind my teeth at all, but stress in general isn't great for the immune system; that's all I was saying.

Guster: Thanks for the info, although that's pretty solidly out of my price range right now.

Interesting that people keep bringing up bone loss too: I assumed it was mostly an issue of gums receding until the teeth didn't have enough to anchor them or got infected. I'll do what I can to see a periodontist, though again, I doubt I'll be able to afford it unless the clinic I'm with covers it. At least now I have some info to go on though.
posted by wanderingchord at 6:10 PM on December 31, 2012


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