The Real Reason Why Your Gums are Receding

It’s probably not what you think.

smiling woman with braces not worried about receding gumsphoto credit: shutterstock

Worried about your smile?

If you have receding gums, it’s often attributed to simply brushing too hard, or it could be a sign of gum disease. Also known as gingivitis, gum disease is an infection that causes swelling along your gums. It develops when plaque accumulates and hardens into tartar, causing the gum tissue to pull away from the teeth. According to the Canadian Dental Association, 70 percent of Canadians will develop gum disease at some time in their lives. But gum disease certainly isn’t the only cause of receding gums.

It all comes back to stress

You can’t always see it, but stress has a huge impact on your oral health. Does your mouth or jaw ever feel sore at the end of a long, hard day? You’re probably tense and holding stress there. “When you clench your jaw and grind your teeth, it affects your gums and may cause recession,” says Dr. Janet Tamo, a dental professional and Crest and Oral-B Smile Council Member.

Related: Don’t ignore these 5 signs you need to see your dentist, ASAP.

Long term, you could also be wearing away the enamel on your teeth. If you only grind your teeth at night, as is the case with many people, you probably don’t even realize you’re doing it until your dentist notices a problem. Unexplained jaw pain or consistent headaches could also be a sign you’re grinding your teeth. If at all possible, try to eliminate some of the stress in your life. A meditation practice (try one of these mindfulness apps to get started) or regular exercise routine can help you de-stress. In the meantime, ask your dentist about a mouth guard to protect your teeth and gums, and try these other tips to protect your oral health.

Get a lesson on brushing

Brushing your teeth: It seems simple enough. But there is definitely a wrong way to brush your teeth. “It’s important to get proper instruction on brushing for your mouth,” says Dr. Tamo. She recommends getting a quick lesson from your dental hygienist.

Soft and gentle does the trick

Dr. Tamo cautions against using a medium- or hard-bristled toothbrush. “I don’t even know why they’re stocked,” she says. “Always use soft.” An aggressive brushing style, combined with a hard-bristled toothbrush can actually cause the gum tissue to separate from your teeth, leading to bleeding, inflammation and receding gums.

Get some (electric) help

Dr. Tamo also recommends an electric toothbrush over a manual one. She suggests the Oral-B Genius 8000 Rechargeable Electric Toothbrush ($270 at mass retailers), which is shaped like a dentist’s tool with a round head and will make your mouth feel as clean as a full dental cleaning would, she says. When paired with the Oral-B smartphone app, you’ll even receive time coaching to make sure you’re brushing for the recommended two minutes. A special pressure alert will also notify you and help protect your gums if you start to mindlessly brush a little too hard.

Related: Chronic dry mouth? Get some relief with these tips.

Floss. Every. Single. Day.

“Flossing is the best mouthwash,” says Dr. Tamo. Not only will regular flossing keep plaque from building up around your gums, but it is also the best way to maintain fresh breath. And that’s all anyone really wants, right?

Related: These 6 myths about mouthwash might be harming your health