Even if their teeth are enviably bright and straight, some women conceal their smiles because they’re self-conscious about dark splotches on their gums. Typically there is no medical or periodontal problem—the spots are harmless deposits of the pigment melanin—and sometimes that information alone provides the reassurance people need to let their grins out of hiding.
But when brown or blue-black patches or overall darkness of the gums erode self-confidence, it’s understandable to want a solution. Fortunately, there are now easy and effective treatments that allow once-dark gums to be transformed into the “pink of health.” However, many people—even dentists—are unaware of that fact.
What’s behind those blotches: Genetics plays the primary role in determining who gets gingival hyperpigmentation, the medical term for splotchy or dark gums. Though people of African, Indian, Middle Eastern or Asian descent are particularly prone to produce the extra melanin, darkened gum patches can occur in people of all races, according to Alex Farnoosh, DMD, PhD, a Beverly Hills cosmetic dentist and periodontist (gum specialist). Other contributing factors include smoking and use of oral contraceptives, the antibiotic minocycline or certain other medications.
In rare cases, discolored gums can signal an underlying health problem, such as a blood or adrenal gland disorder. That’s why it is best to talk with a physician before pursuing cosmetic treatment for dark gum spots, Dr. Farnoosh advised.
Lightening up: Getting rid of gum splotches used to be a risky and painful procedure involving grafting, and results often were unsatisfactory. But today’s options, which include laser treatment and/or a nonlaser bleaching technique developed by Dr. Farnoosh, can produce pink gums much more easily—typically in one or two sessions—by breaking down or removing the deposits of melanin. Typically treatment is done under local anesthesia…takes about an hour…involves minimal discomfort…requires no recovery time…and produces immediate results.
Once treated, the dark spots generally do not come back, Dr. Farnoosh said, citing patients he has treated with the nonlaser bleaching method and followed for as long as 20 years. (He noted that there is less long-term data on the permanence of the laser treatment.) Caveat: Given that smoking contributes to gum discoloration, a patient who continues to smoke after treatment may need a touch-up down the road. The cost starts at about $1,500 depending on the extent of the area treated.
Intrigued? That’s understandable…because attractive gums can be part of your loveliest smile. To find a gum specialist in your area, visit the Web site of the American Academy of Periodontology. But note that not every periodontist knows how to treat dark gums—so you’ll want to contact several practitioners to inquire about their experience.