Gum grafts restore fullness and height to shrunken gums. They reinforce the soft tissue that protect the teeth and restore a beautiful smile. A gum graft is a dental operation that can be preventative, restorative and cosmetic.
The stages of a gum transplant
Before looking into a gum transplant, the dentist will first treat the cause of receding gums.
The dentist will evaluate the extent to which the gums have receded and the risk that it will get worse. Depending on the case, they may advise you to:
- Use a less aggressive brushing technique with a soft-bristle brush.
- Treat gingivitis and periodontitis.
- Remove mouth piercings.
- Wear a night guard to prevent the effects of teeth grinding.
Good hygiene and scaling, combined with medical treatment, may be enough for the mildest cases.
Your dentist may recommend a gum graft if your teeth are at risk of falling out or if the pain caused by the exposure of the dental root is too severe.
However, when the periodontium is too seriously affected, with significant bone loss, soft tissue grafting alone is not recommended because the gum would not have enough bone to support it.
How the procedure works
Gum grafting is carried out under local anaesthetic as an outpatient procedure. It lasts between one and three hours.
The operation consists of grafting a thin layer of soft tissue onto the receded part of the gum, placing it where the tissue is loosening to prevent it from progressing.
Gum grafts have many aims:
- To cover the exposed root to protect it from wear and tear, cavities and to relieve sensitivity.
- To thicken up the gum to prevent it from receding again.
- To create a new gum if the gum does not reach high enough.
- To improve the appearance of the gums next to teeth that are visible when smiling or when talking.
The procedure is carried out in several steps.
Preparing the site that will receive the graft
The dentist will streamline the gum with a scalpel or small curettes to prepare it to receive the new tissue.
Removing the graft tissue
The palate consists of two tissue layers: the surface epithelium and the deep connective tissue.
Depending on the individual, the dentist will remove a shred of tissue from either the external epithelial layer or connective tissue in the subepithelial layer. They will then stitch up the epithelium to protect the wound.
In some cases, the dentist will use a collagen graft substitute. They will no longer remove tissue from the palate however, it is not possible to treat every patient with this type of substitute bio-material.
The dentist will position the graft where the gum has receded and will then cover it with an adjacent piece of gum.
Then, they will stitch it up and apply a dressing to protect the gum from infection during scarring.
After the gum graft, the dentist will prescribe painkillers and/or anti-inflammatories to prevent discomfort and potential complications.
The patient may develop bruising and swelling in the cheek. If there is some bleeding, it is advisable to preserve the graft by biting into a sterile compress rather than using mouthwash.
The patient should avoid eating and brushing their teeth in the area of the graft for the first few days, and should then use a soft-bristle tooth brush.
It takes three to four months for the new gum to heal completely.
The success of the operation may be undermined if the patient starts smoking again too soon afterwards.
The results are visible from the first few weeks and continue to develop for 6 to 12 months after the operation. The bare parts of the gums will regenerate and the soft tissues will be strengthened.
It is now possible to recover 50 to 70 % of receding gums. On average, these can be restored to around 75 % of their height.