A gum graft is a collective name for surgical periodontal procedures that aim to cover an exposed tooth root surface with grafted oral tissue or create new firm gum in an area.
Exposed tooth roots are the result of loss of bone around the teeth which in turn cause gum recession. Common causes of recession can include overly aggressive brushing, incorrect brushing technique or periodontal disease or a history of such.
There are different types of gum grafts that can be performed to address different concerns:
Free gingival graft – This procedure is often used to thicken gum tissue. A layer of tissue is removed from the palate and relocated to the area affected by gum recession.
Connective tissue graft – This procedure is commonly used to cover exposed roots. Tissue is removed from the outer layer of the palate and relocated to the site of gum recession.
There is an option of using medically processed, donated human tissue as a tissue source for the grafting. The advantage of this procedure is that there is no need for a donor site from the patient’s palate resulting in decreased post-operative discomfort. However, your periodontist will determine if you are a good candidate for this.
Benefits from Gum Grafting can include:
Reduced sensitivity – When a root surface is exposed, hot or cold foods can cause extreme sensitivity to the teeth. Gum grafting can permanently cover the exposed root which can in turn reduce discomfort and restore the health of the gums.
Improved Aesthetics – Gum recession and root exposure can make the teeth look longer than normal and the smile to appear “toothy”. Often times the root of the teeth are more yellowish in color compared to the enamel on the tooth. Gum grafting can return the appearance of the teeth to their original length making them more symmetrical and generally more pleasing to look at.
Improved gum health – Gum grafting can help halt tissue and bone loss; preventing further problems and protecting exposed roots from further decay.
Gum Grafting Q&A
What does gum grafting treatment involve?
The gum grafting procedure is usually performed under local anesthetic. The exact procedure will depend much on whether tissue is coming from the patient’s palate or a tissue bank.
Sutures are often placed to further stabilize the graft and to prevent any shifting from the designated site. Surgical material is used to protect the surgical area during the first week of healing. Uniformity and healing of the gums will be achieved in approximately six weeks.
What is the recovery time after this procedure?
Patients can return back to work usually the next day. However, if you have a job that involves a lot of talking or dealing closely with people, it may be recommended to take 1-2 days off.
What will the gum graft look like once it is healed?
A Free Gingival graft will always appear slightly whiter in color in comparison to the surrounding gums. Therefore, it is rarely recommended for esthetic areas such as the upper front region.
A Connective Tissue graft will have an almost perfect color match to the surrounding gums when healed and it would be extremely difficult for anyone to be able to tell if something was done.
What are some Post-operative instructions I should be prepared to follow?
Try to avoid speaking for the day after the procedure. This will reduce your tongue constantly hitting the roof of the mouth which in turn can lead to more bleeding of the site.
Avoid sleeping on the side the surgery was performed for 3 days. This will decrease the risk of excessive bleeding and swelling
Icing routines should be done for the first 3 days to decrease swelling
Steroid anti-inflammatories and/or Ibuprofen may be prescribed or recommended to take by your dentist following the procedure. These medications should be taken preventively. If you have tissue from a tissue bank used you will be required to take antibiotics initially.
A soft diet should be expected for the first 1-2wks
I know someone you had a gum graft done and they said the roof of the mouth was very painful. Should I have painkillers?
Most patients do not need pain killers during healing and are fine with taking Advil. It may be recommended to have an appliance made that covers the roof of your mouth during initial healing. This will significantly reduce the post-operative discomfort.
For more information on this procedure and other important dental health topics, please see the following link: Canadian Academy of Periodontology