Everything You Need to Know About Gum Graft Surgery
If you’ve had your wisdom teeth removed or a root canal, the thought of having any other oral surgery may seem daunting. But if you’ve been told by your dentist or periodontist that you need a gum graft surgery, you can relax a little — it sounds far worse than it is.
A gum graft doesn’t have nearly the extensive recovery of a root canal or wisdom teeth extraction. Keep reading to learn when this surgery is necessary, what to expect, and how to ensure an easy recovery.
When is a Gum Graft Necessary?
Most gum grafts are prescribed due to gum recession, which can be caused by gum disease or aggressive brushing. Gum recession is a process where the gum line that surrounds your teeth starts to recede toward your jawbone and expose the root. With the root exposed, your teeth will become more sensitive to temperature, home dental care, and dental cleanings.
How Common is the Procedure?
Gum recession is far more common than one would believe. Sometimes people are a bit too vigorous with their teeth brushing technique, or they use the wrong type of toothbrush. These actions erode the gums over time — like river erosion. The process is also just as slow as the river erosion, so most patients do not notice it until it becomes severe.
If left untreated, some foods, such as those with high sugar content, can actually become painful to chew on the side of the exposed root. In an extreme scenario, gum recession can ultimately lead to tooth loss.
To prevent irreparable damage to the teeth, dentists and periodontists normally recommend a gum graft procedure to help stop the additional recession and protect the already exposed root.
What to Expect During the Procedure
Your dentist will discuss what anesthesia you receive, as it will vary from patient to patient. Anesthesia can range from localized numbing to IV anesthesia and relaxing medications such as nitrous oxide (laughing gas) or prescription tranquilizers for the patient to take before the procedure, such as Valium.
In addition to different levels of sedation, there are three different types of gum grafts. Since not every patient has the same condition for needing a gum graft, not every patient needs the exact same procedure.
Connective Tissue Grafts
Connective tissue grafts are the most common grafts performed. Gum tissue is extracted from the roof of your mouth and then literally grafted to the gum tissue that surrounds the exposed roots. The tissue extracted from the roof of your mouth does not leave a permanent dent in your palate. When extracting, the periodontist first cuts out a flap of tissue, and after the tissue is removed, the flap is stitched back in place.
Free Gingival Grafts
Free gingival grafts also use palate tissue, but in this case, the tissue is removed directly from the roof of the mouth instead of cutting out a flap first. This method extracts more tissue from the palate than the connective tissue graft and is generally performed on patients who have genetically “thin” gums and need the extra tissue to “thicken” the gums.
The graft tissue for pedicle grafts comes from the gums around the tooth that needs treatment instead of from the roof of the mouth. In this case, the periodontist will create a flap–called a pedicle–from the gums and then pull it over the exposed root and stitched in place. This can only be performed on patients who have a lot of gum tissue.
There is also the possibility that the graft tissue can come from a tissue bank instead of extracting from your own palate. In some cases, tissue-stimulating proteins can be used to prod your body into naturally growing your own gum tissue. It all depends on your unique situation and what your dentist and periodontist think will work best for you.
Recovering from a Gum Graft Surgery
You can go home immediately after your surgery, but you will need a ride. Your mouth may not heal completely for up to two weeks, but you should be able to return to your normal routines the day after surgery. Once home, here are some important tips to remember:
- Until the area has healed, do not brush or floss the gum lines that were affected.
- Rinse your mouth with a special, dentist-prescribed mouthwash.
- Use antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection (if prescribed).
As far as foods, here are some tips for at least a week post-gum graft surgery:
- Eat only soft, cool foods such as eggs, gelatin, yogurt, cottage cheese, or well-cooked (super soft) vegetables.
- Avoid raw vegetables and crispy fruits, such as apples and pears, until you are completely healed.
Will I Be in Pain?
How much pain you will experience will vary according to the type of gum graft procedure you had. If you didn’t have any tissue from the roof of your mouth removed, then you will most likely have very little pain, if any at all. If you did have palate tissue removed, you may be uncomfortable for a few days.
Many patients have described the feeling as similar to burning the roof of their mouths from hot pizza, but fortunately, the mouth tissue tends to heal very quickly. Your periodontist may prescribe pain medication, but if not, over-the-counter anti-inflammatories–such as ibuprofen–can help relieve the pain.