Papillae is the plural of papilla. Papilla is kind of a generic term in anatomy, referring to any little fiddly bit coming off an organ. It comes from the Latin for nipple, but there are papillae all over the body, from the tongue to the kidneys. And, since this is a blog about the gums, you can bet there are papillae on the gums.

Interdental Papilla

We refer to the small fjords of gums that flow up between your teeth as the interdental papillae. These are small but vital both for the appearance of your gums and for the health of your teeth.

Papillae help protect and enfold the teeth. Papillae are also very sensitive to gum disease. When you have gum disease, any amount of swelling will show up in the papillae first. They are also indicative of the health of the bone underneath, since the distance from the bone is a key determiner in whether you have interdental papillae. Receding gums are likely to dramatically impact your papillae, leaving black triangles between your teeth. In addition, many people simply lose their papillae with age.

Because papillae are such key indicators of dental health and youth, they are also significant in the appearance of your smile. The presence of black triangles or inflamed, swollen papillae can make your smile look unhealthy, old, and unattractive.

Interdental Papillae Show

You might think that your interdental papillae are too far down to show much. But the truth is that over 90% of people display their papillae when they smile. This includes older individuals, who might otherwise be expected to show less gums when they smile. Even people with a low upper smile line–their lips don’t rise very high on their teeth–show their papillae 87% of their time.

And the papillae have a definite impact on the appearance of your smile. When dentists were shown pictures of smiles that had varying heights of papillae, it was found that a difference of 2 mm (about 1/13th of an inch) was enough to make dentists think a smile was unattractive. With this small difference affecting the appearance of the smile, it’s important to manage the papillae.

Managing Your Papillae

The combination of papillae being vital to an appearance of your smile, and being sensitive to changes in your age and oral health, means that caring for your papillae is a significant challenge. A periodontist is in the best position to prevent the loss of your papillae, especially if you are getting restorations such as a dental implant or dental crown. A periodontist is also in the best position to restore them with a gum graft or other procedure if they have been lost.

If you would like to learn more about preserving or restoring your interdental papillae, please call (949) 551-5902 for an appointment with an Orange County cosmetic dentist at Rice Dentistry in Irvine.