How to Recover Quickly From Gum Grafting Surgery
Getting Gum Grafting Surgery
When I first discovered that I needed gum grafting surgery, I was horrified. I needed to get a series of these procedures done, and to make the most of my dental insurance coverage, I needed to get the first gum grafting surgery before the end of the year. My surgery was scheduled for December 19th, and I had a big, four-day event to go to starting on the 28th.
Some of the potential ramifications of gum grafting surgery include:
- Facial swelling
- Facial bruising
- Difficulty speaking
- Difficulty eating
I was really concerned that I would turn up at my conference looking like I was a secret member of Fight Club!
To make sure I recovered as quickly as possible, I adhered to ALL of my periodontist's advice with regard to post-surgery treatments and behaviors. Based on my experience, here are the most important things to do to ensure a quick recovery.
What is it Like?
If you would like to learn more about the procedure and what it's like to have it done, read my article on getting gum grafting surgery.
Graft One Tooth at a Time
The more teeth you have grafted, the longer and more difficult a recovery you will have. If you, like me, have somewhere important and public to go shortly after your procedure, just get one tooth handled for now. Your recovery will be swifter and less painful.
In my case, I have a total of seven teeth that will eventually need grafting. I could get them all done in one sitting, but the recovery would be far more intense.
As you can see from the images of my mouth to the right, just one procedure involved opening up a flap of skin in the roof of my mouth and moving a bunch of the material from under that flap to the area around the recessed gums on the other side. Just that has half of my mouth out of commission—imagine what more would do!
While I'm all for getting things over in big batches, this is not something to batch if you need to recover quickly.
Ice After Surgery
My periodontist sent me home with an ice pack after surgery- the kind that you break up and that becomes instantly cold. I bought another one and iced my face on and off for 20 minute periods after returning home.
When I went to bed, I wrapped an ice pack in a tea towel and slept on it. You might want to put a protective towel over your pillows and not use a very nice tea towel... I woke up to find some blood on mine.
Don't Play with the Dressing, Apply More if Bleeding Gets Intense
A dissolvable dressing was placed over a stitched-closed wound at the roof of my mouth after the procedure, and I was told to leave it alone (many patients are tempted to mess with it with their tongues).
Even when you avoid touching it, the dang thing gets pulled at as you eat/drink/talk (bad bad bad!). I accidentally swallowed some of mine the morning after the procedure, which was a bloody, gross, and unenjoyable experience, so... yeah... just try to leave that thing alone until it falls off all by itself.
Now, if bleeding becomes more intense, one is instructed to take a clean piece of gauze and wipe out any clots that one can see, then firmly place a clean piece of damp gauze or (and this surprised me) a tea bag directly over the bleeding spot, then repeat if necessary.
Of course, you should call your periodontist right away if bleeding can't be stopped- and again, cover your pillows with a big towel. I missed a spot and am kicking myself for it!
In general, the more you talk, the more you stretch out your mouth.
It is therefore a good idea to keep talking to a minimum, especially the frist two to three days after surgery.
It is not advised that you go into the office, though I was told it's fine to work from home (which is what I opted to do).
NOT talking is surprisingly hard. You have no idea. That said, you'e gotta do what you've gotta do.
Eat Soft Foods
For two weeks after the procedure, gum grafting surgery patients are told to eat soft foods. This means things like:
- Soft tofu
- Very soft fish
In addition to avoiding hard foods like toast, chips, cookies, al dente pasta, etc., I was told to avoid things that have small seeds or fragments that can get caught in my stitches (EW EW EW EW).
Eat on the Unaffected Side of Your Mouth
At the end of my surgery, a dissolvable dressing was placed at the stitched-closed wound at the top of my mouth from which flesh was harvested for the grafting. To help this area heel faster, try to keep food (and your tongue) on the OTHER side of your mouth (or if this is at the front, move food to the back).
When eating non-liquid but still super soft stuff, cut it into very small pieces. This can reduce the amount of chewing you do, and it'll also make life easier when it hurts to open your mouth or swelling in your face makes it hard to do so.
Chew using teeth far, far away from the tooth/teeth that had grafting done. You don't want to disturb the wounds or get food caught in the stitches.
Don't Brush the Affected Area
This should come as a no brainer, but it's worth repeating. It is, however, okay for you to brush the rest of your mouth.
After two days, I was told it is okay to brush the chewing side of the teeth that have had grafting work done around them, and after one day, it's OK to use the rinse they give you.
That said, you're supposed to GENTLY slosh it around your mouth. None of that rigorous sloshing they do in the Listerine commercials, those batty actors...
I practically live on an elliptical machine and exercise is my number one work booster, so I was devastated to hear that people who have just gotten gum grafting surgery have to avoid exercise.
Apparently, during the first week, rigorous exercise can worsen swelling, bleeding, and bruising, and the first 24 hours are the most crucial period. If you do anything, at least "be a couch potato", as my surgical assistant told me, for the first day. Exercise after that should be pretty low key.
Consider Arnica Gel and Tablets
Finally, my periodontist recommended arnica gel as an alternative, supplementary means of reducing bruising. While it is not a proven medical cure, many people swear by arnica gel and tablets to reduce bruising (or prevent it altogether).
Because I am utterly desperate to heal quickly, I went for the stuff, and and applied it three times daily. While I can't say it was the arnica gel that prevented me from bruising altogether, I can say that visible bruises never came, so it might have made a difference.