Gum graft surgery, also known as soft tissue grafting, is a dental procedure that aims to restore and repair receding gums. Receding gums are a common dental issue that occurs when the gum tissue around the teeth pulls away, exposing the tooth roots. This can lead to sensitivity, tooth decay, and even tooth loss. In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about gum graft surgery, including what it is, how it’s performed, the different types of gum grafts, and the recovery process.
What is Gum Graft Surgery?
Gum graft surgery is a dental procedure that involves taking tissue from the roof of the mouth or a donor source and grafting it onto the affected area to cover the exposed root and restore gum tissue. This procedure is typically performed by a periodontist, a dental specialist who specializes in the treatment of the gums.
Why is Gum Graft Surgery Necessary?
Gum graft surgery may be necessary for a variety of reasons, including:
- To prevent further damage to the teeth and gums from receding gums
- To increase gum thickness and reduce the sensitivity of thin gums
- To improve the aesthetics of a smile
- To prepare for other dental procedures, such as dental implants
Types of Gum Graft Surgery
There are three main types of gum graft surgery:
- Connective tissue grafts: In this procedure, tissue is taken from a flap of skin from the roof of the mouth and stitched over the exposed root to cover the damaged area.
- Free gingival grafts: In this procedure, a small amount of healthy gum tissue is taken directly from the roof of the mouth and placed over the affected area.
- Pedicle grafts: In this procedure, tissue is taken from the gum tissue near the affected area and pulled over it to cover the exposed root.
Your periodontist will determine which type of gum graft surgery is best for your individual needs.
How do you prepare for a gum graft?
Once you’ve decided to have the procedure done, you don’t have to fast or change your diet on the day before or the day of the procedure. All you have to do is show up. Your periodontist will confirm the type of procedure, whether it’s a connective tissue graft, free gingival, or pedicle graft.
However, you do need to arrange a ride to and from your appointment. You’ll be given medications for pain and discomfort that may make it unsafe for you to drive, so you’ll need to ride home with a friend or use a car service.
What to Expect During the Procedure
Before the surgery, your periodontist will administer local anesthesia to numb the affected area. They will then make a small incision in the gum tissue to expose the root. The graft tissue will be placed over the exposed root and stitched into place. The procedure can take anywhere from one to two hours.
What to Expect After the Procedure
After a gum tissue graft, it’s normal for the affected area to be tender and swollen. Your periodontist will provide you with specific aftercare instructions, such as:
- Avoiding hard or crunchy foods for at least a week
- Rinsing your mouth with saltwater to promote healing
- Taking over-the-counter pain relievers as needed
You may also be prescribed antibiotics to prevent infection. The recovery process typically takes a few weeks, and the stitches will dissolve on their own.
Recovery from Gum tissue grafts
A person can aid recovery by:
- avoiding flossing or brushing at the treatment site
- using a special mouthwash which controls plaque build-up
- taking antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection
- avoiding strenuous exercise
- avoiding foods that are hard to eat
- eating soft, cool foods, for example, ice cream, pasta, eggs, yogurt, and soft cheese
- avoiding smoking
The pain and discomfort a person experiences will vary. If the periodontist is using tissue from a tissue bank, for example, a person should feel minimal pain. If they remove the tissue from the roof of the mouth a person may feel pain for a few days.
The healing process is often quick, taking 1 to 2 weeks for the mouth to heal fully but may take longer. People can take over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers or prescription medications to help manage any discomfort.
After the procedure, teeth may feel more sensitive than usual, particularly to hot and cold foods, and people may benefit from using desensitizing toothpaste or mouthwash. Most people can return to work the following day.
A person will probably have a follow-up appointment with their dentist after surgery to check the healing process is progressing as it should. The dentist may also remove any stitches if necessary. The gums will not only look different after surgery but may feel tighter and firmer too.
How much does a gum tissue graft cost?
Gum grafts can cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. If you’re insured, this procedure may be covered in full or at a little out-of-pocket cost to you. You may be able to have the procedure done for free if you have dental insurance as part of an Affordable Care Act plan.
Risks and Complications
Like any surgical procedure, gum graft surgery comes with its own set of risks and complications. These may include:
- Swelling and discomfort
- Gum recession
- Failure of the graft to properly attach and heal
It’s important to follow your periodontist’s aftercare instructions to minimize these risks and ensure a successful recovery.
What happens next?
You should be fully healed from a gum grafting procedure in one to two weeks. You’ll need to schedule a follow-up appointment with your periodontist a week or so after the procedure so that they can make sure you’re healing properly and the graft is successful.
After about two weeks, you should be able to brush and floss again. Full healing of the area of the graft may take a month or more depending on your overall health and how well you take care of your mouth during recovery.
Is it necessary?
A person deciding whether to have gum graft surgery should consider the following:
- Alternative treatments: This may include tooth extraction if gum recession is already severe.
- The cost of surgery: If a person is considering surgery for cosmetic reasons alone, they will likely have to cover the cost of the operation from their own pocket.
- Risks of not treating: Untreated gum recession can lead to severe gum disease and eventual tooth loss. Gum disease can also cause additional problems, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
By maintaining good oral hygiene, and visiting a dentist for routine checkups on a regular basis, a person can reduce their risk of developing gum disease and catching it early should it begin to develop.
Gum graft surgery is a common dental procedure that can help repair receding gums and prevent further damage to the teeth and gums. While there are risks associated with any surgical procedure, the benefits of gum graft surgery far outweigh the potential complications. If you have receding gums, speak with your dentist about whether gum graft surgery may be right for you.