You’re probably familiar with the saying “long in the tooth” meaning when someone is older.  The usual cause is gum recession — when your gums start to pull up, exposing more of the tooth’s root, and you end up looking like your teeth are very long – some might say “horse teeth.”

To be sure, ageing is one cause of gum rescission, a common dental problem, among others:

  • Periodontal disease and infection
  • Trauma
  • Orthodontic treatment performed to correct severe crowding
  • Over brushing
  • Gum-line fillings or crowns
  • Poor tooth positioning (root prominence)
  • Tooth loss

Gum surgery probably sounds much worse than it is.  A gum graft may be recommended to protect your teeth from the damaging effects of gum recession, or it may be cosmetic, to create a winning smile.  It’s important to get treatment, though, because gum recession can cause damage to supporting bone, and result in tooth loss. This condition affects 4% to 12% of adults and often the patient is not aware of it until it becomes more severe.

Besides looking ugly, gum rescission can cause tooth sensitivity, especially when consuming cold or hot foods and beverages.  Soft tissue grafting is a conservative and permanent treatment for gum recession, as opposed to using tooth-colored filling material to cover exposed tooth roots.  It is important to understand that any dental restoration placed along the gumline may over time lead to worsening of the recession problem.

The way to repair the damage and prevent further tissue loss and dental problems, is to first perform a deep cleaning, both above and below the gum line, to remove calculus (tartar) from the teeth and roots.  The grafting procedure itself will generally be performed under local anesthetic, but this depends on the size of the areas receiving grafts.  A gum tissue graft is usually done with one of three methods:

  • Connective-tissue grafts. The most common method.  A flap of skin is cut in the palate (roof of the mouth) and tissue from under the flap is removed and then stitched to the gum tissue surrounding the exposed root.  The flap is put back and stitched into place.
  • Free gingival grafts.  Also uses tissue from the palate, removing a small amount directly without using a flap, and then attaching the graft to the gum area being treated. This method is preferred for people who have thin gums and additional tissue is needed to enlarge them.
  • Pedicle grafts.  Tissue is grafted from the gum around or near the tooth needing repair, rather than from the palate. The flap, called a pedicle, is partially cut away preserving one attached edge. The gum flap is then moved to cover the exposed root and sewn into place. This procedure requires ample gum tissue near the tooth.

Another option preferred by some dentists and patients because there is no surgical site, is graft material from a tissue bank instead of from the roof of the mouth. Tissue-stimulating proteins are used to increase your body’s natural ability to grow bone and tissue.  Another option is manufactured membranes that are man-made and can be utilized in certain situations to promote the normal healing and development of gum tissue.

The amount of pain after surgery will depend on the type of gum graft performed. If no tissue is removed from your palate, you should have little to no discomfort. However, the wound on the roof of your mouth can cause discomfort for a few days and has been described as feeling like a major pizza burn, but the good news is it tends to heal quickly.  Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory and pain medication are usually sufficient.

Gum uniformity and an immediate improvement in comfort and appearance typically occurs within the first several days of healing.  The healing will be mostly complete within the first six weeks after the procedure.

If you are interested in soft tissue graft in Costa Rica, fill out the “Find a Dentist” form on this page.  One of our patient advocates will reply to your needs.