What Are Shrinking Gums?

Chewing tobacco, which can cause shrinking gums.
Teeth grinding may cause shrinking gums.
Gingivitis, which can cause shrinking gums, often starts with bleeding.
A woman with healthy gums.
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  • Written By: Kay Paddock
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 20 July 2014
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Shrinking gums, also commonly called receding gums, are gums that look like they're pulling away from the teeth. This gives the appearance that teeth are longer than they are, because more of the tooth enamel is visible. Gum disease and brushing the teeth too hard are two common reasons for this. Most of the people affected are over the age of 40, but shrinking gums can happen at any age, particularly if dental hygiene is poor.

The early stage of gum disease is known as gingivitis. Bleeding gums are often the first sign of a problem. Gum inflammation is common in the beginning, before the gums start to recede. Dentists frequently warn patients to watch for a pink toothbrush, which would be an easy way to spot bleeding while cleaning the teeth. Bleeding can also be a sign that someone is brushing too hard and causing damage to the gums. This may also lead to receding gums and an unhealthy mouth.

Gingivitis is caused by the bacteria that form naturally in the mouth. These bacteria create plaque that can be brushed away when it first appears. If it is not removed through good oral hygiene, it hardens into tartar which usually must be scraped away by a dentist. Tartar below the gum line irritates the gums, causing them to recede away from the teeth. Teeth may become especially sensitive to hot, cold or sweet foods. Sore gums are another common sign that there may be a problem.


If gingivitis is not corrected in the earliest stages, it can progress into periodontitis. When this occurs, gum recession is usually much more visibly noticeable. Sometimes the brown tartar becomes apparent at the gum line because of shrinking gums. Not only can this problem be unattractive, but it may also affect a person's overall health.

Shrinking gums, especially once they start to bleed, will usually lead to loosening teeth. This is because the tartar that irritates the gums also contributes to bone loss. Teeth are anchored into the bones in the jaws. When periodontal disease is present, that bone can start to slowly disappear so that the teeth become less secure. This often leads to teeth that start to shift in the mouth and eventually fall out or have to be pulled.

Other less common causes of shrinking gums include such factors as hereditary dental problems, grinding the teeth together at night, the use of chewing tobacco, and lip or tongue piercings that irritate the gum tissue. Once these problems are corrected, if they can be, the shrinking gums often return to a normal, healthy state. Proper, gentle oral hygiene may help prevent shrinking gums caused by aggressive brushing and gingivitis. Good oral hygiene may also help reduce the risk of such health conditions as heart disease and stroke, as periodontal disease has been linked to an increased chance of developing these serious conditions.


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