Receding gums is a condition involving the gums pull away from a tooth’s surface, exposing more of the tooth and sometimes the tooth’s root. Often the result of poor oral health habits, aggressive brushing, smoking, and other factors, gum recession affects three of every four adults and since it occurs gradually, typically goes unnoticed until it becomes severe.
Not only does an exposed tooth root look bad, it can be extremely painful and especially sensitive to hot or cold. Left unchecked, gum disease can cause significant damage to surrounding bone tissue and eventually lead to complete tooth loss. If receding gums are a problem for you, your dentist might recommend a gum tissue graft (or gingival graft) performed by a periodontist to protect your teeth from further damage.
I need surgery?
Don’t run for the hills just yet; gum surgery isn’t as bad as it sounds and it might be the best way to repair the damage and restore your bright smile. The procedure is a simple, outpatient process in which a doctor removes a piece of tissue from the roof of your mouth or nearby gum tissue and attaches it to areas where other tissue has worn away.
Preparing for a gum tissue graft starts with analyzing your needs and matching them to one of the three types of grafts:
Connective tissue graft
This is the most common approach to treating exposed tooth roots. Subepithelial tissue from under the roof of the mouth is removed and stitched to strong gum tissue surrounding the root. The tissue removal site in the mouth is then also repaired.
Free gingival graft
This type of graft follows the same initial approach as connective tissue grafts but instead removes tissue directly from the roof of the mouth and attached to the target area. This grafting technique is popular for people with thinner gums needing additional tissue support.
Also known as lateral grafts, this procedure grafts tissue from gum near the damaged tooth. A flap is cut and then pulled down or over the exposed tooth and stitched into place. This generally works best with substantial available gum tissue.
Variations to these procedures include using graft material from a tissue bank instead of the patient’s mouth, and prescribing proteins to encourage the body’s natural growth of bone and tissue.
The best part about gum surgery is it requires no fasting or radical diet changes; you just show up and when it’s done you can go home. (You’ll need a driver, though; it’s not safe to drive with the pain medications in your system.)
What happens after surgery?
The severity of post-surgery pain depends on the procedure. If tissue is removed, you will likely experience a few days of discomfort. Some people describe the resulting wound in the mouth where tissue was removed to be like a burn from eating something very hot. However, it usually heals quickly and prescription pain medications can help ease the blow. It might take up to two weeks for your mouth to completely heal but you can jump right back into your normal routines and work duties.
A couple of things you will have to remember are to practice good oral care and be aware of food intake. For the first week or two after surgery, be sure to eat soft, cold foods that won’t damage the graft. This includes goodies like eggs, yogurt, pasta, Jell-O, cottage cheese, soft veggies, and ice cream. (Yay for that last one!)
When it comes to oral care, don’t brush or floss at the repaired gum line until it has fully healed. Your periodontist will give you a special mouthwash to help control plaque and perhaps antibiotics to hold back infection.
What happens next?
If you experience bleeding, pain, swelling, or bruising after surgery; call your doctor right away. Beyond that, full healing should take a month or so and while there is no guarantee that future gum issues will not develop, grafting surgery is highly successful. What can you do to help prevent gum disease?
- Brush twice a day or more with a fluoride based toothpaste
- Rinse at least once a day with antiseptic mouthwash
- Floss every day
- Get regular dental checkups and professional cleaning (twice a year is best)
- Eat a well-balanced diet of healthy foods
- If you’re a smoker, it’s time to quit
For more information on gum grafting surgery recovery, contact Glendale Periodontics at (818) 423-4172 or glendaleperiodontics.com.