If you’ve been visiting the dentist for a while, you are probably aware of the importance of protecting your oral health, including not only your teeth, but also supportive structures like the gums. Your gum tissue surrounds the root of the tooth, protecting it against the intrusion of harmful bacteria that could lead to infection and tooth decay. This is why you need to be diligent about brushing, flossing, rinsing, and scheduling regular dental visits for checkup and cleaning.
Unfortunately, even the best regimen for care may not be enough to stop gum recession, which is a relatively common occurrence as we age. In some cases, the gums simply begin to pull away from the tooth, exposing more of the tooth’s surface, including sensitive roots. Gum recession may also be related to improper brushing techniques, such as brushing too hard, or alternately, not brushing enough.
As a result, your dentist may recommend a gum grafting procedure designed to increase healthy gum tissue in order to cover exposed roots, reduce sensitivity you may be experiencing, stabilize affected teeth, and protect against further recession. Many adults also find that gum grafting improves the appearance of their smile, and some elect to go through with the procedure for this reason alone.
That said, there are a few things you should be aware of before you undergo a gum grafting procedure. What is this procedure and what does it entail? What results can you expect in terms of appearance and oral health?
What is a Gum Graft?
There are actually a few different types of gum grafting procedures, including connective tissue grafts, free gingival grafts, and pedicle grafts. Connective tissue grafts are the most common type, and the procedure involves cutting a flap of skin on the roof of the mouth, or the palate, removing subepithelial connective tissue to graft to gums (by stitching it in place), and then reattaching the flap of skin to the palate (i.e. stitching it in place).
A free gingival graft is similar to the first option, except that tissue is removed directly from the roof of the mouth, instead of opening a flap, allowing for more tissue to be added to the gums. This type of procedure is generally reserved for severe cases in which more tissue is needed to support thin gums.
The final option, a pedicle graft, revolves around rearranging existing gum tissue. Rather than taking extra tissue from the palate, an incision is simply made in existing gum tissue so that it can be pulled over the exposed portion of the tooth and then stitched into place. For patients that have plenty of gum tissue, but just in the wrong place, this procedure may be ideal.
During each procedure, local anesthetic is used to eliminate potential pain, although patients that suffer from dental anxiety may want to discuss other options, such as sedation dentistry, since these procedures generally take upwards of an hour to complete. Each procedure requires two appointments – one for the actual procedure and one to remove the stitches after healing.
What to Expect Following a Gum Graft Procedure
Your dentist will work hard to keep you comfortable throughout the gum grafting procedure, as well as create a natural and attractive result. However, you should plan for some downtime during the recovery process.
Discomfort is normal following procedures, especially those in which tissue is removed from the palate. The sensation is often described as similar to suffering a burn on the roof of your mouth after eating hot pizza. OTC anti-inflammatory medication is generally adequate to treat discomfort, but your dentist may also prescribe pain medication if you suffer severe discomfort.
You should expect recovery to take at least a couple of weeks, although you can likely return to normal activities within a day or two. During the recovery process, you’ll be instructed to stick with soft foods like Jell-O, pasta, eggs, and so on.
In addition, you will not be able to brush or floss affected areas as they heal. Your dentist will suggest a special mouthwash designed to promote healing and reduce bacteria and plaque buildup. You may also be given antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection. Within a couple of weeks, you should recover from the gum grafting procedure and enjoy a healthier and more attractive smile.