Gum recession is one of the most noticeable symptoms of gum disease. As gums recede, they expose an increasing amount of the tooth crown and root. For a patient suffering from gum disease, gum recession can affect one or many teeth, causing a wide range of symptoms including sensitivity, inflammation of gum tissue, root exposure, and cavities. It is important to address gum recession because the gums are the primary barrier against bacteria which can cause bone and gum deterioration, lead to tooth loss, or enter the body and cause additional systemic issues.
In addition to the health concerns posed by gum recession, there are also aesthetic concerns for patients. Some feel embarrassed by the apparent size and length of their teeth. Gum grafting augments the gumline to create a more natural and attractive smile, offering a solution to both the aesthetic and health concerns related to gum recession.
There are three primary types of gum grafts. Your dentist will determine on a case-by-case, tooth-by-tooth basis which approach is most appropriate to a specific situation.
Connective Tissue Grafts
Connective tissue grafts are the most common form of gum grafting, treating root exposure of one or many teeth. First your dentist will administer a local anesthetic to minimize pain and discomfort throughout the procedure. The doctor will then cut a flap of skin in the roof of your mouth and remove the underlying tissue. This will serve as the additional gum to be grafted onto your existing gumline. The flap in the roof of your mouth is then stitched back down. The extracted tissue is sutured to the existing gum tissue surrounding the exposed root. As the graft heals, the new tissue will fuse with the existing gum tissue, raising the overall gumline around the tooth.
Free Gingival Grafts
Free gingival grafts are similar to connective tissue grafts. Instead of cutting a flap in the roof of your mouth to access underlying tissue, the grafting tissue is taken directly from the roof of the mouth. This tissue is then attached to the existing gumline with sutures. This method is preferred for patients with naturally thin gums.
Pedicle grafts differ in that the graft tissue is not removed from the roof of the patient’s mouth. Instead, the graft tissue is taken from neighboring gums and is manipulated to cover the exposed or recessed area. A flap, called a “pedicle” is cut into the neighboring gum tissue, leaving it partially attached. The pedicle is then pulled over the tooth root for increased coverage and is sutured into place. This option is preferred for patients who still have a significant amount of gum tissue remaining.
After your gum grafting procedure your dentist will provide you with a sedative to help you relax, so you will need to be escorted home by a friend or loved-one. It is important to follow all post-operative instructions provided by your dentist. Do not brush or floss the treated area until healed. Your dentist will give you a special mouthwash to prevent the build-up of plaque and bacteria in the meantime. You will need to follow a soft foods diet for about 1 week after the procedure. Pain following the treatment depends on the type of graft selected and each patient’s individual pain tolerance. You dentist will most likely recommend an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain medicine, or in some more severe cases will prescribe a stronger pain medicine. Patients are generally able to return to work and daily activities in 1-2 days.