Did you know there is a direct correlation between your dental health and your overall health? In fact, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, a part of the NIH, concludes that the mouth is a mirror of health and disease. Because of this, the mouth can act as an early warning system for poor health. (1)
Our mouths are filled with bacteria. This includes both harmless and harmful bacteria that cause oral infections, cavities, gum disease and bad breath. But, practicing good oral hygiene routines that include daily brushing, flossing and oil pulling can help to keep the harmful bacteria under control to prevent serious dental problems including periodontal disease and receding gums.
Receding gums are one of the most dramatic signs of gum disease. When bacteria-containing plaque builds up on the gums and teeth, it causes inflammation so severe that it can actually destroy gum tissue. This can lead to the gums pulling away from the teeth, exposing the roots, and the development of small pockets that harbor harmful bacteria.
According to the Mayo Clinic, oral bacteria and inflammation may play a role in diseases including endocarditis, cardiovascular disease, premature birth, rheumatoid arthritis and head and neck cancers. (2) Keeping our teeth and gums healthy must be a priority and — as we age — not only for our dental health, but also for our long-term health.
What Are Receding Gums?
Receding gums are a byproduct of periodontal (gum) disease. Gum disease is an infection of the soft tissue and bone that hold teeth in place. As the disease progresses, the gums pull away from the teeth creating pockets that harbor bacteria, leading to an infection. Then, as our immune system fights the infection, the connective tissue and bones that hold teeth properly begins to break down. Finally, without effective treatment, the gums, connective tissue and teeth are destroyed. (3), (4)
Signs and Symptoms
In the early stages of gum disease, many people aren’t aware there is a problem. The first signs can be very subtle, such as the occasional blood when brushing teeth and tender spots when chewing. However, as the disease progresses, and the gums start to pull away from the teeth, the following more visible and sensory sensations may appear:
- Bad breath that isn’t remedied with teeth brushing or mouthwashes
- Swollen gums
- Gums that are dark red in color
- Gums that bleed when eating, brushing and flossing
- Teeth that are sensitive to foods and drinks that are either hot or cold
- Teeth that are loose, or move slightly when eating or when touched
- Pain or discomfort when chewing
- Teeth that appear longer than others in the mouth
While poor dental hygiene is most often associated with receding gums and periodontal disease, there are some risk factors that increase the probability of developing this painful condition.
- Hormonal changes. Women of all ages may notice that gums are more sensitive when going through a hormonal shift. This includes young girls entering puberty may have sensitive gums, as may pregnant women, those who take birth control pills, and women entering the stages of menopause.
- Researchers believe that estrogen and progesterone play a role, and, in fact, increased progesterone levels can cause gum disease. As women hit menopause, dry mouth is a common complaint. And, decreased saliva is a leading cause of tooth decay and gum disease. (5)
- Diabetes. Diabetics are more prone to infections than the general population. In fact, periodontal disease is a complication of diabetes. Research indicates that gum disease and diabetes often run in tandem; the infections may make it harder to control blood sugar and the infection may increase blood sugar levels. Because of this, it is vital that diabetics practice good oral hygiene to prevent infections as the risk for complications are high. (6)
- HIV/AIDS. Individuals with HIV/AIDS are at a significantly greater risk for receding gums as they have limited ability to fight off infections. Like women in menopause, dry mouth is a side effect of many medications and the disease. It can lead to tooth decay, infections and thrush. (7)
- Vitamin C Deficiency. One of the most common signs of a vitamin C deficiency is poor oral health, including gums that are swollen, bleeding or inflamed.
- Smoking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking weakens the immune system making it difficult to fight gum infections. And, for smokers who already have receding gums and periodontal disease, smoking makes it difficult for the gums to heal. Tobacco in any form raises your risk. The statistics tell the rest of the story: (8)
- Smokers have twice the risk of gum disease than nonsmokers
- The longer you smoke, the greater the risk
- The more you smoke, the greater the risk
- Treatments may not be useful
- Genetics. Like many health conditions we face, researchers believe that some people may be genetically predisposed to gum disease. So, for these individuals, prevention is key.
- Certain medications. Prescription and over-the-counter medications that cause dry mouth, many oral contraceptives, anti-depressants, and some medications for heart disease, can all cause gum disease.
- Bruxism. Teeth grinding, or bruxism, is one of the leading causes of receding gums and periodontal disease. Addressing this condition, while pursuing effective treatments, is the best avenue for relief and healing.
- Poor oral hygiene. Individuals who don’t brush their teeth, twice a day, floss or oil pull, have a heightened risk for oral health problems, including gum disease. However, brushing with a stiff toothbrush, or brushing too hard, can also cause gums to recede and lead to further dental problems.
No one loves sitting in the dentist’s chair. And for those who have receding gums or periodontal disease, a trip to the dentist or periodontist can be particularly frightening and painful. Common conventional treatments include: (9)
- Deep cleaning. These cleanings go beyond the annual cleanings. They involve a process called “scaling and root planing.” This is where the dentist scrapes off tartar from above the gum line, and below the gum line. Also, in some cases, lasers may be used.
- Antimicrobial/antibacterial mouthwashes. To kill the infection, the dentist may prescribe certain mouthwashes and gels to reduce the bacteria and the bacteria-filled pockets.
- Oral antibiotics. Antibiotics may be prescribed to fight the infection.
- Flap surgery. After the deep cleaning, bone and tissue grafts may be recommended to regenerate bone and gum. Grafting may use natural or synthetic bone to promote the body’s natural healing tendencies.
Fortunately for those who experience intense anxiety when visiting a dentist, there are effective natural treatments for receding gums and periodontal disease.
1. Green Tea
Known for its age-fighting compounds, green tea was found by Japanese researchers to promote healthy teeth and gums. The study, published in the Journal of Periodontology, found that drinking a cup of green tea each day decreased periodontal pocket depth, improved the attachment of the gums to the teeth, and reduced gum bleeding. In fact, the more cups of green tea consumed, the better the results. (10)
2. Oil Pulling
This Ayurvedic practice involves the swishing of either sesame oil or coconut oil in the mouth for 10 to 20 minutes a day. Research shows that oil pulling removes toxins from the mouth, helping to prevent cavities and oral diseases. (11) In addition, oil pulling is just as effective as germicidal mouthwash at eliminating bad breath, a common side effect of receding gums and gum disease. (12)
3. Coconut Oil & Himalayan Sea Salt Rub
To reduce the inflammation in the gums, gently massage gums with a mixture of coconut oil and pink Himalayan salt. Let sit for a couple of minutes, and then rinse your mouth with fresh water. Together, they have powerful antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties to help relieve the symptoms when you have gums receding.
4. Vitamin C
Having a deficiency in this essential nutrient is known to cause inflamed and bleeding gums. Boosting your intake of vitamin C-rich foods including oranges, kale, red peppers, broccoli and Brussels sprouts may help to reduce the inflammation and bleeding associated with receding gums.
5. Aloe Vera
Researchers in India have studied aloe vera’s efficacy in oral health. In the study, they used aloe vera-based toothpastes, mouthwashes, gels, topicals, sprays, juice and supplements. The findings indicate that applying aloe vera gel to inflamed gums and pockets results in improvement of periodontal conditions. (13) Taking 100 milligrams per day, in addition to rubbing the gel on the gums, may speed healing when gums are receding.
This Ayurvedic medicine is known to boost immunity and fight a variety of infections. Septilin is a proprietary blend of Guggulu, Guduchi, amla, licorice and other compounds that support a healthy immune system and reduce inflammation. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial published in the Journal of Periodontal Implant Science found that dietary supplementation with Septilin improves periodontal treatment outcomes. In just three weeks, participants who were given the compound showed marked improvement in trial scores. (14)
Another supplement commonly prescribed in Ayurvedic practice is known as a rebuilder of oral health. Researchers acknowledge that amla supports healing and development of connective tissue. It can be used as a mouth rinse, or taken orally in a capsule form for long-term dental health. (15)
Anything you can do to reduce plaque and bacteria can help you when fighting gum disease. While flossing’s benefits are not superior to oil pulling, if you do want to floss, floss smarter. Choose your floss carefully. Also, select an all-natural floss that doesn’t contain PFOA or other nonstick compounds.
Using a mouthwash made from oregano oil is a great way to fight infections in the mouth. Oregano oil has strong anti-fungal, antibacterial, antioxidant, antiviral, and anti-parasite compounds that can promote healing of inflamed gums while fighting the infection.
10. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found that 300 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids daily for 12 weeks significantly reduces gingival index, pocket depth, and bleeding while improving gum to tooth attachment. In addition, researchers believe that it may also act to prevent chronic periodontitis in some individuals. (16)
As mentioned above, there is an association between periodontal disease and increased mortality. Our oral health is an indicator in our overall health and wellness. As gum disease progresses, with gums receding, teeth can become loose and even fall out. In fact, gum disease causes nearly two-thirds of all tooth loss in adults over the age of 40. (17) Finding an effective treatment is essential for your long-term health.
- Prevention is the best way to fight receding gums and periodontal disease.
- Left untreated, gum disease can cause receding gums, systemic infections and loss of teeth.
- Oral bacteria are associated with endocarditis, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.
- Certain medications that cause dry mouth may contribute to periodontal disease
- Oil pulling with sesame or coconut oil is an effective treatment as it reduces plaque and improves gingivitis.
- A cup of green tea each day decreases pockets and improves the attachment between gums and teeth.
- Practicing good oral hygiene, daily brushing with a soft toothbrush with soft to moderate pressure, helps to prevent plaque buildup that can lead to periodontal disease.