What It's Like to Get Gum Grafting Surgery
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.
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.
Gum Grafting Surgery Types
Type of Procedure
More "natural" final appearance
Hard to determine how much coverage you'll get
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.
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?
The Gum Grafting Process
Here's exactly what happened for my procedure:
- 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).
- They sat me in the operating chair and gave me some tea (chocolatey! mmm!).
- We chatted about what do to after the surgery to reduce bad effects (I cover this in another article).
- 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).
- 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.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
Have you had gum surgery before?
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!