Just when I thought I was cruising along, taking menopause on the chin, embracing getting older, I went for my 6-month check-up at the dentist. All good, except for the receding gums!
Warning: Dental before-and-after shot at the bottom of this article. I don’t think it’s too gruesome but I felt it was kinder to alert you to it.
My dentist is a really good guy. He takes excellent care of me and lets me have ‘happy gas holidays’ to have my teeth cleaned. Seriously, since I can remember, the act of scaling the tartar off my teeth has been excruciating for me. It reached a point where I had to have only half my mouth done per visit because I needed nitrous, numbing gel and anaesthetic injections to have my teeth cleaned! Such is the level of sensitivity at my gum line.
Last visit, six months ago, I told my dentist I had a tooth that was really playing up. He added some kind of desensitising goo and it was good for a short while but from then on, same deal. It would hurt/bother me to eat cold, hot or sweet things on that side. So, rather than speak up and complain again – because I’m already such a sook when it comes to dental work – I put up with it for another six months.
Gum recession and the problem tooth
On my most recent check-up, I feebly mentioned that problem tooth again. My dentist pulled out his handy dandy camera gadget and took a shot of the tooth to show me … drum roll … gum recession. It was there before but he truly thought he’d managed it. So this time around, it was time for more affirmative action. A filling. Now I am just like you, I don’t like the idea of, or even the word ‘filling’. All that drilling and poking, eek! But if it’s going to stop the pain and discomfort, then bring it on. (Well, I should add, as long as I have my gas, gel and needles.)
Bring on the happy gas!
I tell ya, as soon as that nose mask goes on and the gas starts flowing, I’m a happy camper. I’ve never done recreational drugs in my entire life – never wanted to, still don’t – so my little ‘gas holidays’ are quite the treat. I lay there listening to the music they have playing in the background and challenge myself to identify when a song starts and ends, and count the number of songs I hear while under the gas. It’s all a bluuuuurrrrr, a wonderful, relaxed, trippy blurrrr! I’m surprised I can even understand what my dentist is saying to me but somehow, I open my mouth when told to, grind when told to, do that weird outward spurt of air and a creepy “fffhhhlluuugh” when he says something funny.
[On a side note, I always used to joke – possibly still under the influence of the nitrous – that if they could just call in the gynaecologist to my dental visits, I could happily whack my feet up in stirrups and get my pap smear at the same time as having my teeth cleaned and not give a damn about the discomfort and indignity! As long as I’m sucking back the gas!!]
Anyway, on this visit, I asked my very accommodating dentist if he wouldn’t mind taking before-and-after photos of my problem tooth so I could write a blog post about my experience and he duly obliged. You’ll find the photos at the bottom of this post. Tip: there’s a little blood.
The filling itself was no big deal. I guess he just roughed up the exposed area of my tooth that’s supposed to be concealed behind the gum and added a filling to the surface. Whatever he did, worked! It’s not 100% but I’d say it’s about 90% better than what I was putting up with before, and I’m grateful. Grateful like the lion in the Greek folktale, from whose paw a runaway slave pulled a thorn. (Look up ‘Androcles’.)
Gum recession as we age
Ever heard the expression “long in the tooth” when talking about someone who is old? That refers directly to gum recession. As we age, more of our teeth become exposed above the gum line. It’s a natural progression but if you don’t look after your teeth, it’s bound to be more severe. I was always ‘that kid’ with lots of fillings, always the one of my siblings that had to see the dentist more often. I had four molars removed “to make room for” my teeth, instead of having braces, which ended up causing other problems instead. I’m kind of not surprised that I’m dealing with gum recession, even though I brush twice a day and floss. Ok, I sometimes floss.
If you have receding gums, you could suffer from:
- Bad breath
- Unpleasant taste in the mouth
- Tooth sensitivity
- Bleeding gums after flossing or brushing
- Exposed tooth roots
- Loose teeth
All lovely (not). But there are ways to deal with receding gums. You can’t re-grow or surgically remediate the gums back to their original positions but you can take steps to avoid further recession and also look after your teeth in situ.
How to care for your receding gums
Now we’re in our fifties, it’s time to take dental health really seriously. Your teeth still have a long way to go (are you shooting for 100 like me?). Whether you have or haven’t done any of the following stuff, do it from today:
- Twice-yearly dental check-ups. Make a date every six months to see your dentist! Go on, call now.
- Brush (and floss) twice a day. Yep, even if you’re tired, even if you don’t bother taking your makeup off.
- Chew gum. Sugar-free gum (see my gum of choice at right)!! Chewing stimulates saliva production and that’s good for your oral health because the minerals in your saliva are the same as those in your teeth. Giving your teeth a good bathing in saliva helps to remineralise spots on the teeth that have been attacked by acid. When you chew gum, it even helps to remove and wash away small bits of food that may have become stuck in your teeth and gums.
- Be gentle when brushing your teeth. You don’t have to go at it like a jackhammer on concrete! Use a soft toothbrush and allow the bristles to do the work. Don’t put your biceps into it.
- Use an electric toothbrush. Studies have shown that electric toothbrushes provide a deeper, more effective clean and that they are more efficient than manual toothbrushes at reducing plaque and gingivitis.
- Stop with the teeth whitening. The harsh chemicals can cause greater sensitivity. You can whiten your teeth if you have receding gums but talk to your dentist about the right way to do it.
If you were blessed with gorgeous teeth, I salute you. Me, I was not. I’ve had some cosmetic dentistry over the years and lots of fillings, extractions and even a couple of root canals. Still, you have to love your teeth no matter what they’re like, and the more you love them, the better they treat you in return!