A gum graft is a type of dental surgery performed to correct the effects of gum recession. It is a quick and relatively simple surgery in which a periodontist removes healthy gum tissue from the roof of the mouth and uses it to build the gum back up where it has receded.
Gum recession is the process in which the tissue that surrounds the teeth pulls away from a tooth, exposing more of the tooth or the tooth’s root. This can cause damage to supporting bone. Gum recession is a common dental problem; it affects 4% to 12% of adults and often goes unnoticed until it becomes more severe.
Risk Factors for Gum Recession
Inadequate oral hygiene, hormone changes, diabetes, and other illnesses can increase your gum disease risk, leading to gum recession. Although many people who have receding gums develop them due to periodontal disease, recession can also occur because of your family history or genes. Another cause of gum recession is tobacco use. Smokers are twice as likely to develop gum disease as nonsmokers. Most tobacco products can increase your risk in this way.
Other risk factors for gum recession include an aggressive or improper brushing technique, extreme force put on your teeth from grinding or clenching, and the unusual pressure brought on by misaligned teeth. Also, keep in mind, tongue and lip piercings can rub and irritate your gums making them recede.
A gum graft, also known as a gingival graft, can correct receding gums. Your dentist may refer you to a periodontist, a gum specialist, for this simple surgical procedure.
In a gum graft, your periodontist first removes a piece of tissue from the roof of your mouth or from nearby healthy gum tissue. They next attach it to the area where your gums have worn away. This procedure is relatively quick, and you can leave as soon as it’s done.
Preparing for a gum graft surgery
Once the person and their dentist have considered all the options and decided on the type of surgery, there is not much that a person needs to do to prepare for the procedure.
However, it is essential to ensure a family member or friend is available to drive to and from the appointment.
This is important because the pain medication prescribed to manage the discomfort means it is unsafe for a person having gum graft surgery to drive.
People getting gum grafts will be able to go home right away after the procedure. A periodontist will discuss all the aftercare instructions to ensure the graft heals successfully.
After arriving at your appointment, you’ll be escorted into the procedure room. Local anesthesia will be used to numb the area where the procedure will be done.
In rare cases, your periodontist may allow you to have general anesthesia so that you can be unconscious during the procedure. This usually isn’t recommended because of the risks that go along with general anesthesia.
Types of Gum Grafts
Three different types of gum tissue grafts are typically performed. Which type your dentist uses on you will depend on your specific needs. The graft procedures include:
This is the most common method used to treat root exposure. During the procedure, a flap of skin is cut at the roof of your mouth (palate) and tissue from under the flap, called subepithelial connective tissue, is removed and then stitched to the gum tissue surrounding the exposed root. After the connective tissue — the graft — has been removed from under the palatal flap, the flap is stitched back down.
Free gingival grafts
Similar to a connective-tissue graft, free gingival grafts involve the use of tissue from the roof of the mouth. But instead of making a flap and removing tissue under the top layer of flesh, a small amount of tissue is removed directly from the roof of the mouth and then attached to the gum area being treated. This method is used most often in people who have thin gums to begin with and need additional tissue to enlarge the gums.
In this procedure, instead of taking tissue from the palate, it is grafted from gum around or near the tooth needing repair. The flap, called a pedicle, is only partially cut away so that one edge remains attached. The gum is then pulled over or down to cover the exposed root and sewn into place. This procedure can only be done in people who have plenty of gum tissue near the tooth.
Recovery from gum grafting surgery
You’ll be able to go home shortly after the procedure is done. Your periodontist may have you wait an hour or two if they want to observe you to make sure there aren’t any issues with the graft. During the first week or two of recovery, try to eat soft, cold foods to make sure you don’t damage the graft. You shouldn’t eat hard or hot foods that can burn or irritate the graft.
Good foods for the recovery period include:
- eggs, especially scrambled or soft-boiled
- vegetables that have been cooked until they’re soft
- cottage cheese
- ice cream
- gelatin, such as Jell-O
Your periodontist will likely recommend that you use an antimicrobial mouthwash for a couple of weeks to prevent infections, plaque buildup on your teeth, or issues with the graft. You shouldn’t brush or floss in that area until your doctor says it’s safe to do so. Brushing or flossing before the area has healed can open the wound or cause an infection. If you’re dealing with any pain or discomfort, over-the-counter pain medications, such as naproxen (Aleve), may provide relief. Don’t exercise or perform any strenuous activities until your doctor says it’s fine to do them.
Are there any complications?
Complications of gum graft surgery are minimal and uncommon. It is, however, possible that people may experience the following:
- bleeding gums
- swollen gums
- teeth feeling looser (though this should only be temporary)
- sensitive teeth
- spaces appearing between the teeth
Occasionally, the graft tissue may not attach to the graft site properly. This is very rare, but if this happens a person might require repeat surgery. Some people do not like the way their smile looks after their gum graft surgery. In these situations, the periodontist may be able to reshape the gums to help change the way they look.
When to Call the Doctor?
Call your dentist if you experience any unusual symptoms following surgery, such as: bleeding that won’t stop after applying pressure for 20 minutes or more pain, swelling, and bruising than your dentist said to expect.
How Much Will a Gum Graft Cost?
Many dental insurance companies will pay a portion of the cost of gum grafts. If you don’t have insurance, the cost of gum surgery will depend on how much work is being done. Talk to your dentist to learn about your payment options.
Is gum grafting permanent?
Gum grafting surgery permanently covers the exposed root, helps reduce discomfort, and restores the good health of the gums. Improved appearance – Periodontal disease is characterized by gum recession and inflammation.
Can receding gums grow back?
The simple answer is, no. If your gums are damaged by, for example periodontitis, the most severe form of gum disease, it’s not possible for receding gums to grow back.