If an individual has gum recession as a result of periodontal disease, or has thin gums that need to be augmented before dental procedures, their dentist may recommend a soft tissue (gum) graft. The purpose of the gum graft is to cover exposed root surfaces and to increase the amount of gum around a tooth. It can be done to improve the esthetics of the gum line, prevent further recession, as preparation for other dental procedures (restorations or orthodontics), or to protect the tooth from root sensitivity and cavities.
A graft is the transplantation of living tissue from one part of the body to another. In the case of a gum graft, the tissue is usually taken from the roof of the mouth and placed on the exposed root surface. In some instances, it may be possible to move gum tissue from a site right next to the root surface or to use tissue donated from a different source. One or several teeth can be treated simultaneously.
Gum grafts have been done since the 1960's with exceptional success. The techniques have changed since then, making the procedures even more predictable, comfortable, and esthetic. Today it is possible to match the texture and color of the gum tissue with minimal scarring.
Soft tissue (gum) grafts are done in the dentist's office with local anesthesia (lidocaine). After obtaining the donor tissue, it is secured on the recipient site with stitches (sutures) or tissue glue. The donor site (usually the roof of the mouth) may also require stitching, bandages, or tissue glue. Post-surgical discomfort is usually minimal and can be easily managed with commonly available over-the-counter medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen. Patients can expect to follow their normal routine the day after oral surgery. The dentist will provide special instructions related to diet, exercise, and medications.
The stitches are usually removed five to ten days after the surgery. Follow-up appointments are scheduled as necessary to evaluate healing and plaque control.
Soft tissue (gum) grafts are beneficial to help reduce further gum recession and bone loss as well as to help protect the root surface from decay and sensitivity. In addition, a dentist should be consulted about gum grafting procedures if individuals have exposed root surfaces or long-looking teeth that create a cosmetic problem. If a general dentist does not frequently perform soft tissue grafts, he or she may refer the patient to a periodontist who specializes in this technique.
By Laura Minsk, DMD