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What It's Like to Get Gum Grafting Surgery

Updated on April 22, 2017
Simone Smith profile image

Until recently, I knew nothing about gum grafting surgery. Now I know a whole lot!

Gum Grafting Surgery

Until recently, I knew nothing about gum grafting surgery. Now I know a whole lot! I just had my first (of probably seven total) last evening, and while my memory is fresh, I'll share my experience with you so you'll know what to expect, should you get the procedure yourself.

What is gum grafting surgery? It is a procedure done by a periodontist to mitigate recession of the gums. Recession takes place when gums are pulled down over time by movement of the teeth, excessively harsh brushing, or something else, like gum disease.

The procedure involves moving flesh from elsewhere in the mouth (e.g., the roof of the mouth) to the recessed gum to plump it up around the tooth and provide a safer barrier.

Check out my super gross teeth! As you can see, the teeth in the two bottom panels need grafting. The instrument in the images at the top is used to check for inflammation and other gum disease issues.
Check out my super gross teeth! As you can see, the teeth in the two bottom panels need grafting. The instrument in the images at the top is used to check for inflammation and other gum disease issues. | Source

Tunneling and Gum Grafting Surgery

I got the version of gum grafting surgery known as tunneling, in which a flap is opened in the roof of the mouth, flesh is removed, and that flesh is injected in and pulled around the recessed gum surrounding a tooth.

They're sort of pulling that transplanted flesh through a sleeve around the edge of your gums just like you'd pull a sweatshirt hood's string through the seam around the hood.

Tunneling is seen as a slightly more aesthetically favorable version of gum grafting surgery because you won't see a patch of flesh where something has been added on (the color with surface grafting is a bit different). That said, it is sometimes hard to predict how much the tunneling will actually counteract recession, so the big perk of surface grafting is that you know what you're getting.

The shape in the upper left image demonstrates the flap that was opened at the roof of my mouth and used to source material that will reinforce some of my recessed gums.
The shape in the upper left image demonstrates the flap that was opened at the roof of my mouth and used to source material that will reinforce some of my recessed gums. | Source

Gum Grafting Surgery Types

Type of Procedure
Pros
Cons
Tunneling
More "natural" final appearance
Hard to determine how much coverage you'll get
Surface Grafting
More of a known quantity, results-wise
One can see where the graft was added.

Pro Tip: Bring an iPod!

My periodontist wisely encouraged me to bring a music player with my own playlist to the procedure, and it was a GREAT distraction. I listened to a recorded version of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, a fanfiction based on the Harry Potter series, as well as some lectures on the rise and fall of China.

If you're looking for free audiobooks to listen to, I strongly recommend turning to LibriVox. Their staff picks listings are a great starting point.

Before the Surgery

One of the nice things about getting gum grafting surgery is that you're not supposed to fast beforehand. Quite to the contrary, my periodontist encouraged me to eat a lot of food, because I'd be on a soft food diet for quite some time after the procedure took place.

Now, this may not be the case with all gum grafting surgeries. If you're going to be put under during the procedure because your periodontist prefers to work on sleeping patients, you may be asked to prep in a different manner.

One final thing patients are asked to do to prepare is to make sure they have a ride to and from the surgery, should they opt to get some sort of sedation (e.g., nitrous oxide) during the procedure.

You won't be seeing more than this... though I'll admit it's weird seeing people sewing up stuff inside your mouth!
You won't be seeing more than this... though I'll admit it's weird seeing people sewing up stuff inside your mouth!

Pro Tip: Get HIGH!

If you're REALLY nervous about getting this procedure done, just ask for nitrous oxide. I decided to not do this the first time because it costs extra, but it's a great option for those who just want to space out the whole time.

The great thing about this procedure is that it's never too late to ask for the stuff. If you initially decide you're okay without any extra help, but later decide the procedure is too intense for you, you can opt to get the nitrous oxide whenever you like.

Would you opt for nitrous oxide?

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The Gum Grafting Process

Here's exactly what happened for my procedure:

  1. I paid ahead of time (each procedure is over $1500, so be sure to save up for these... I'm going to have to cut back on my "fun" fund next year to cover the remaining procedures I have left).
  2. They sat me in the operating chair and gave me some tea (chocolatey! mmm!).
  3. We chatted about what do to after the surgery to reduce bad effects (I cover this in another article).
  4. They leaned me back and rubbed numbing gel on my gums (the gel was somewhat effective for surface pain; I couldn't feel half of my tongue for about fifteen minutes).
  5. They started by injecting Novocain on my outer gum (around the gums to be grafted); I am terrified of needles, but didn't really feel these—just small bits of pressure.
  6. They then injected Novocain into the roof of my mouth, where they were to open the flap of skin from which they drew flesh for the tunneling (this hurt more, because I think the needles went pretty deep- the numbing went so far that I couldn't even feel my nose).
  7. After waiting a while for the numbing to set in, they begin with the procedure- I didn't notice much except certain things started to hurt- I just let them know when things started to hurt and they injected more Novocain (YAY).
  8. I didn't notice much as the procedure went on- just pressure and pulling. I was concerned that my noise-canceling ear buds would make it easier for me to hear flesh being cut, but my fears were unfounded.
  9. It was weird watching them put stitches in at the end (I didn't feel a thing, but it's weird seeing people thread things inside your mouth and feel the pull as they sew things up).
  10. They finished by applying a dissolving cover to the flap in the roof of my mouth that was opened up, just to cover things for a bit.

Then I was on my way home—or rather, to the pharmacy to pick up antibiotics, mouthwash, and pain meds.

Weigh in!

Have you had gum surgery before?

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So... Do I Have Anything to be Worried About?

Nope. So long as you trust your periodontist and he or she came highly recommended, you'll be fine. I'm absolutely terrified of needles and super squeamish, but I was really okay.

Just prepare yourself for:

  • Some slight pokes
  • Some pressure
  • A MINOR amount of pain during the procedure
  • Soft food and soreness in the following days

And you'll be fine. It is definitely worth it to get this procedure done if you're suffering from serious recession.

What About the Recovery?

I've written a separate article on recovering from gum grafting surgery that covers the basics, but here's a quick summary:

  • The night after the procedure, put a towel over your pillow to keep blood from getting on it
  • For two to three days after the procedure, your face will probably swell
  • For up to two weeks after the procedure, your face may be bruised
  • For two weeks after the procedure, don't brush the grafted area (just rinse with a mouthwash they give you, and do so GENTLY)
  • For two weeks, eat soft foods and cut food into small pieces
  • Two to three weeks later, your stitches will be taken out

That's pretty much it. If you're getting this procedure, don't worry, and good luck!

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    • profile image

      Neil 4 weeks ago

      What do you mean by each procedure? This isn't just one surgery? Sounds expensive

    • profile image

      Andy 2 months ago

      I'm not sure if you still reply to comments on here but I have a question for you. Does the grafted tissue have feeling? I hate the feeling of being numb so bad that I typically don't even get novacaine for fillings. Just wondering if the grafted gums are numb forever or not.

    • profile image

      beverly driggers 14 months ago

      I'm having gum grafting on Monday, and on the following Friday I'm having hand surgery, is this wise to have two surgeries that close together.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Simone, thanks for sharing this hub. This was useful and interesting to know what to expect for those kind of surgeries. Hope it went well for you. Voted up!

    • Solaras profile image

      Solaras 4 years ago

      Thanks for the hub. Thumbs Up and voted Useful. My mom had this surgery years ago, and said it felt like a hot pizza burn where they took the graft from. Is that how you are experiencing the recovery or is it worse? Have you experienced bruising as well?

    • MarieAlana1 profile image

      Marie Alana 4 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks for sharing! It make me quemish to look at and to think about. I'm glad it wasn't me. Someone who I'm close to had to get this done 2 or 3 weeks ago. He just said that he could not eat anything solid for several days. By the look of his teeth, it looked very serious.

    • Simone Smith profile image
      Author

      Simone Haruko Smith 4 years ago from San Francisco

      I'd recommend getting a consultation with a periodontist, tillsontitan! It can make you feel a lot better about the process, and there's no obligation to get the surgery!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      I've been told I need the grafting but have been afraid to do it. You've made it sound a lot more harmless than I feared, though I'm still not convinced ;)

      Thanks for the information though. It is a step in the right direction for me.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • girishpuri profile image

      Girish puri 4 years ago from NCR , INDIA

      I had never heard about this procedure, useful hub, Thanks.

    • HubPages profile image

      HubPages 4 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      You lucked out, quicksand! I'm so glad!!!

    • quicksand profile image

      quicksand 4 years ago

      Interesting article indeed. I used to brush my teeth really hard and as a result I found that my gums were receding revealing the roots of the teeth.

      My dentist friend turned me away suggesting that I use a softer brush for a few weeks and then check for improvements. I followed his advice and my gums got back to normal. Thank GOD I did not need a "gum transplant!"

      Interesting article, but a little bit frightening though! - Cheers!

    • Simone Smith profile image
      Author

      Simone Haruko Smith 4 years ago from San Francisco

      I hope so as well, Vickiw, though rest assured that if you do have to go through the procedure, it's not so bad. My periodontist did indeed take those photos- I find them to be so useful!

    • profile image

      Vickiw 4 years ago

      Great sharing of a terrifying procedure! Hope I never have to have this. My daughter did at a young age, and she seemed to sail through it,just like you. Great description and lovely (!) read that as graphic, pictures. Did you dentist take them as you were busy?

    • Simone Smith profile image
      Author

      Simone Haruko Smith 4 years ago from San Francisco

      You should definitely write that Hub on thyroid surgery, VirginiaLynne! I would be most interested to read it.

      Thanks for the kind words, SuzieHQ :D

      And thanks for the well wishing, Camille! I'm lucky to have a great set of periodontists, so I am sure things will go as good as they can.

    • Camille Harris profile image

      Camille Harris 4 years ago from SF Bay Area

      Simone, glad you're doing OK. Hope the next procedures are as uneventful (read: smooth) as this was. Happy Holidays!

    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 4 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Hi Simone,

      I never heard of Gum Grafting I have to admit but you certainly covered all the basis in case of it being needed! Great detail and photos explaining procedure, which you seem to have sailed through even though you are not a needle fan. Thanks Simone for this useful write!! VU ++++++

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 4 years ago from United States

      Thanks for covering this procedure. I've been fighting my 5/6s for quite a while and did not know that there was something to do if mine get worse. This is such great information. I need to do a hub like this on Thyroid surgery. I really wish I'd had this sort of detailed information to look at before I'd had my procedure. Great hub! Voted up and pinned.

    • Simone Smith profile image
      Author

      Simone Haruko Smith 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks so much, Melovy! Getting the procedure certainly isn't as fun as getting a nice facial, but it's nice that we have such good solutions to problems like gum recession. Happy holidays!

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 4 years ago from UK

      Ew, this does not sound like fun. I'd never even heard of the procedure before. It sounds as though you coped with it very well though. I wish you a speedy recovery.

    • Simone Smith profile image
      Author

      Simone Haruko Smith 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks for sharing your story, ktrapp! I hadn't known anyone else who had one of these procedures done, and it's great to hear that yours went so well- and still looks good!!

      CClitgirl, it really isn't so bad at all. I'm glad my Hub might have assuaged some of your nervousness. And thanks for commenting- now I don't feel so alone in my gum woes. I bet this is pretty common and pretty routine- it's really great to know that.

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      Oh my goodness I am SO GLAD I came across this! I have super, super sensitive teeth and my dentist has been talking about grafts. I didn't know much about it so that terrified me. Now that you've explained it, it seems not so bad after all is said and done. It's also good to know about what they do and what to expect because I had all sorts of horrible visions going on in my head, hehe.

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 4 years ago from Illinois

      I had the surface grafting done in three places while I was still a high school student (30 years ago - yikes), thanks to a hard toothbrush. You were smart to use your earbuds because the scraping noise was the worst part of the whole grafting process. The roof of my mouth, where the tissue was removed, just felt like a real bad pizza burn for a few days. To this day, any dentist I have used has given high praise to my periodontist and the gums are still in great shape. Of course I only use a soft toothbrush!

    • Simone Smith profile image
      Author

      Simone Haruko Smith 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks so much, billybuc! Here's hoping you won't need this. Just brush carefully and gently! :D

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Well I hope the recovery goes smoothly. I'm not a big dentist fan. :) Hopefully I won't need this done in the near future. If I have to have it done, at least I know what to expect thanks to you.