People often mistakenly use the terms "receding gums" and "gum disease" interchangeably, but they are actually two different conditions. Yet one condition can lead to the other, and the two conditions can be present simultaneously. Before exploring the differences, the two conditions must be clearly defined.
What is Gum Disease?
When a patient leaves plaque and tartar buildup untreated, it can develop into painful gingivitis, or the inflammation, bleeding, and swelling of the gums. When this gingivitis goes untreated, the gums and the teeth separate and cause gum disease. Also called periodontal disease, gum disease is a serious infection beneath the gum line. The body's immune system attempts to combat the periodontal disease, but, unfortunately, it destroys the teeth, gums, and bone in the process.
What are Receding Gums?
Gum recession is a condition that results from gradual over-exposure of the teeth caused by the gum tissues crawling away. This causes sensitivity, tooth decay, and an aesthetically unpleasing smile. Teeth look longer than what is expected, the mouth is more susceptible to gum disease, and many cold and spicy foods cause great discomfort.
Symptoms and Risk Factors of Gum Disease and Receding Gums
Without a dentist's diagnosis, differentiating between gum disease and receding gums can be difficult because these two conditions share many of the same symptoms, including:
- Bad breath;
- Painful chewing and eating;
- Loosened teeth;
- Bleeding gums; and
The two conditions also share many of the same risk factors, such as:
- Smoking and tobacco use;
- Hereditary predispositions;
- Poor dental care; and
- Hormonal changes.
There are several notable differences in risk factors, however. For example:
- Vigorous brushing and hard toothbrushes can cause gum recession, but this in and of itself will not cause gum disease;
- Certain diseases, like diabetes, cancers, and AIDS, and certain medications can cause gum disease, but will not affect the rate that the gum line recedes;
- Teeth grinding can lead to gum recession, but not gum disease; and
- Crooked teeth, misaligned teeth, and improperly-fitting crowns or dentures can cause gum recession, but will generally not cause gum disease.
Differences in Treatment Strategies
For people suffering from gum recession, sadly, there is no cure. The gums will not grow back, but the patient can adjust brushing strategy, switch to a softer bristle, and change certain lifestyle habits. For extreme cases, gum grafts can be a surgical solution to prevent further tooth damage.
Thankfully for people diagnosed with gum disease, treatment is available. If gum recession resulted from gum disease, that recession cannot be cured, but the underlying infection is reversible. Depending on how severe the gum disease is, a dentist might monitor a medication regimen, perform a deep teeth cleaning, recommend surgery, or perform a dental graft. As with gum recession, a dentist might recommend certain lifestyle changes if the patient smokes or does not follow a hygienic oral regimen.
For both conditions, better oral health habits can reduce the patient's risk of developing either of these conditions.
Reach out to a local treatment facility, like Advanced Laser Gum Surgery Institute of Washington DC, for more details on remedying gum damage.