In health, there are two types of gum tissues that surround the tooth. The part that is around the neck of the tooth is firmly attached to the tooth and underlying bone and is called the attached gingiva. The attached gingiva is immovable and tough and deflects food as it hits the gum. Below the attached gingiva is looser gum or alveolar mucosa. This tissue contains muscle and is flexible to allow movement of the cheeks and lips. The muscles in the alveolar mucosa are constantly contracting, which pulls on the bottom edge of the attached gingiva. However, normally the attached gingiva is wide and strong enough to act as a barrier, which prevents the gum from being pulled down (receding).
Some people are born without sufficient attached gingiva to prevent the muscle in the alveolar mucosa from pulling the gum down. In these cases, the gum slowly recedes over time, even in people who are very conscientious with their oral health. This is not an infection, as is seen with periodontal disease, but rather simply an anatomic condition. Unfortunately, bone recession is occurring at the same time the gum is receding. This is because the bone, which is just under the gum, will not allow itself to become exposed to the oral cavity and moves down with the gum.
Soft tissue grafts can be used to cover roots or develop gum tissue where it is missing due to excessive gingival recession. During this procedure, your periodontist takes gum tissue from your palate or another donor source to cover the exposed root. This can be done for one tooth or several teeth to even your gum line and reduce sensitivity. A soft tissue graft can reduce recession and further bone loss. In some cases, it can cover exposed roots to protect them from decay.