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Dental Health

Brushing With Your Opposite Hand Helps Stop Receding Gums + More Dentist-Backed Tricks

Plus find out what type of toothbrush is best for keeping your gums healthy (and why brushing too much can worsen the problem)

When it comes to looking after your pearly whites, you know the drill — brush twice a day, floss regularly and go for teeth cleanings twice a year. But otherwise, many of us don’t give our oral health much thought. So if we suddenly notice issues with our gums, we have questions. Why are my gums receding? And can receding gums grow back? Here’s everything you need to know about this too-common dental ailment, plus how to prevent it and keep it from progressing.

What are receding gums?

“Receding gums occur when the gum around a tooth shrinks, thereby exposing the root and showing more of the tooth,” explains Teresa Yang, DDS, a Los Angeles-based dentist and author of Nothing But the Tooth: An Insider’s Guide to Dental Health

Receding gums are a form of gum disease, or periodontitis, which is quite common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Periodontology, 46% of adults between ages 45 and 64 have some form of gum disease. And that number only increases with age. For folks over 65, at least 60% have some amount of gum disease.

“Anyone is at risk for receding gums, but it’s more likely as we get older due to normal wear and tear, especially for those who do not have straight teeth,” affirms Joyce Kahng, DDS, a cosmetic and restorative dentist and owner of Orange + Magnolia Dental Studio in Costa Mesa, CA. “Having straight teeth can help with receding gums, especially teeth with good occlusion,” or a healthy bite, she adds.

An illustration of a healthy tooth beside one with receding gums

Related: White Gums Can Point to a Serious Health Issue — Dentists on When You Should Be Concerned

Why are my gums receding?

There are many possible causes of receding gums, says Dr. Yang. They include:

  • Overzealous, too-hard brushing
  • Injury to the gum, such as if it is pierced by a sharp piece of food
  • Braces that move a tooth into an area with thin gum tissue
  • Genetic predisposition to thin gums
  • Poor dental hygiene
  • Teeth grinding
  • Smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Misaligned bite
  • Infrequent professional cleanings

Receding gums stages

“There are different stages of severity for receding gums,” says Dr. Kahng. They are:

  1. Gingivitis: Also referred to as gum inflammation, this first stage can cause discolored or painful gums. Most importantly, it can be treated and reversed.
  2. Early: If gingivitis is left untreated, it can advance to early-stage periodontitis. From this point forward, any damage to the gums or roots of the teeth (which would be minor at this stage) can’t be reversed.
  3. Moderate: This next stage is when the damage to the gums and roots of the teeth becomes more noticeable to a periodontist.
  4. Severe: When you reach the severe stage, you’ll start to notice signs of receding gums such as bad breath or taste, or your teeth looking longer or feeling loose. If you reach this stage, you may need surgery and/or to replace your teeth with dentures or implants.
  5. Advanced: People who reach this stage have likely lost several teeth already and chewing has become difficult. Treatment, which may involve removing all the teeth, is crucial to prevent other health problems that are linked to advanced gum disease, such as cardiovascular problems.

See also: Top Dentists Reveal How to Stop Sensitive Teeth Pain — Fast! 

Can receding gums grow back?

“Unfortunately, there are no strategies for getting the gum to grow back onto the tooth,” says Dr. Yang. “The exception might be if the gum was injured in an isolated instance with, say, a sharp piece of food. In that situation, the gum would probably heal and grow back.” Otherwise, the only way to “replace” the gum that has receded is with surgery known as gum grafting.

“Gum grafting can be performed to replace the lost gum,” Dr. Yang explains. “Gum tissue is either taken from elsewhere in a patient’s mouth, such as the palate, or from a tissue bank. Grafting works best on teeth with mild to moderate gum recession.”

How to stop — and prevent — receding gums

“The strategies for keeping receding gums from getting worse are similar to preventing them,” says Dr. Kahng. Here, expert-approved tips on how to stop receding gums and keep your oral health in tip-top shape.

1. Brush with your opposite hand

One of the biggest causes of receding gums is brushing too hard, which can be a difficult habit to break. “If you have a tendency to brush too aggressively, switch to brushing with your non-dominant hand,” suggests Dr. Yang. This will help you naturally brush more softly.

Surprisingly, brushing too much can also be an issue. “Brush for two minutes maximum, and don’t brush more than two or three times a day,” says Dr. Yang.

2. Choose a soft-bristled, electric toothbrush

In addition to brushing gently, the bristles of your toothbrush should be soft, say our experts. And perhaps surprisingly, an electric toothbrush is better for preventing receding gums than a manual one. A review in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology found that people who used an electric toothbrush had less gum recession after one year than those who used a manual brush. That’s in part because an electric toothbrush’s circular motions may be gentler than the horizontal scrubbing technique we typically use with a manual brush.

Tip: Electric toothbrush heads with soft bristles will typically be labeled “gentle care” or “sensitive gum care.” And for more tips, watch this video for how to brush your teeth correctly using an electric toothbrush:

3. Sip milk after eating

“Acidic foods and drinks can damage the much softer roots of the teeth,” explains Dr. Yang. If the roots are exposed because the gums have begun receding, foods like tomatoes, citrus fruits, apples, vinegar, fruit juice and soft drinks can cause discomfort, plus contribute to tooth erosion.

That said, if you enjoy or can’t avoid these foods, the American Dental Association (ADA) suggests drinking milk or eating some cheese immediately after eating them. Sounds strange, but  dairy can help neutralize the acid and limit its harmful effects.

mature woman drinking a glass of milk to prevent receding gums after eating acidic foods
JLco – Julia Amaral/Getty

4. Try a night guard

Grinding your teeth can put excessive pressure on certain teeth, leading to misalignment and gum recession. If you clench or grind at night, ask your dentist to fit you for a night guard, says Dr. Yang.

And “if you’re a daytime clencher or grinder, get help with cognitive training on how to position your tongue and how to keep your mouth open,” she adds. “Your upper and lower teeth should only be touching when you’re chewing food.”

Daytime teeth grinding is often a side effect of stress, anxiety or a related problem. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, can be an effective way to learn strategies to help combat these issues and therefore limit or eliminate daytime grinding that could be contributing to receding gums. You can look for a CBT therapist near you at the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies Find A CBT Therapist site.

5. Go for regular cleanings

Yes, this one is obvious. But it’s so key, as skipping cleanings can inadvertently lead to receding gums. “If you don’t get a dental cleaning for a long time and you get a lot of [plaque] buildup, especially on the lower area of the tooth, the gums won’t be able to grow into their normal spot,” explains Dr. Kahng. “This can lead to unnecessary recession. Keeping buildup off the teeth prevents it from obstructing the gums and causing recession.”

According to the ADA, regular cleanings typically means visiting the dentist every six to eight months. But your dentist, who is familiar with your personal dental health, is going to provide the best recommendation on how often your teeth need to be cleaned.

More ways to support your oral health:

Dentists Say These 6 Tips Help Stop Bleeding Gums Naturally

These Easy, Surprising Self-Care Tips Can Reverse Gum Disease, Say Dentists

Dentists Reveal 7 Foods for Healthy Gums, Including a Sweet Treat You’d Never Expect

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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