Why are gum grafts performed?

If your gums are receding, your dentist may recommend a gum tissue graft. Gum recession exposes the roots of your teeth. This can cause the root surface of your teeth to become more likely to decay, as well as be more sensitive and prone to abrasion.

A gum graft, also known as a gingival graft, can correct receding gums. Your dentist may refer you to a periodontist, a gum specialist, for this simple surgical procedure.

In a gum graft, your periodontist first removes a piece of tissue from the roof of your mouth or from nearby healthy gum tissue. They next attach it to the area where your gums have worn away. This procedure is relatively quick, and you can leave as soon as it’s done.

Keep reading to learn how to prepare, what happens during the procedure, and tips for recovery.

There are three types of gum grafts:

  • free gingival graft
  • connective tissue graft
  • pedicle (lateral) graft

A periodontist will discuss these options with you and make their recommendation based on your individual needs.

Once you’ve decided to have the procedure done, you don’t have to fast or change your diet on the day before or the day of the procedure. All you have to do is show up. Your periodontist will confirm the type of graft.

However, you do need to arrange a ride to and from your appointment. You’ll be given medications for pain and discomfort that may make it unsafe for you to drive, so you’ll need to ride home with a friend or use a car service.

After arriving at your appointment, you’ll be escorted into the procedure room. Local anesthesia will be used to numb the area where the procedure will be done.

In rare cases, your periodontist may allow you to have general anesthesia so that you can be unconscious during the procedure. This usually isn’t recommended because of the risks that go along with general anesthesia.

Depending on your individual needs, your periodontist will perform one of the following:

Free gingival graft: Your periodontist removes a small piece of tissue from the roof of your mouth and suture (stitch) it to the area that needs gum tissue. You’ll likely get this type of graft if your gums are thin and need extra tissue to prevent further recession.

Connective tissue graft: Your periodontist opens a small flap in the roof of your mouth and removes a piece of connective tissue from under the top layer of tissue. They stitch this tissue to the area that needs gum tissue. This is the most common type of graft.

Pedicle graft: Your periodontist creates a flap of tissue from an area right next to your gum recession and uses the flap to cover the area of receding gum tissue. In this procedure, gum tissue is moved over the recession with local tissue rather than being taken from another part of your mouth. This type of graft is usually the most successful because it doesn’t cut off blood flow in any part of your mouth. For this to work, you need plenty of gum tissue in the areas around your gum recession.

The procedure usually doesn’t take long. Once your periodontist has finished suturing up the graft, they’ll likely have you wash your mouth out with antibacterial mouthwash.

They’ll also discuss how to care for the graft until it’s completely healed.

Gum grafts can cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. If you’re insured, this procedure may be covered in full or at little out-of-pocket cost to you. You may be able to have the procedure done for free if you have dental insurance as part of an Affordable Care Act plan.

You’ll be able to go home shortly after the procedure is done. Your periodontist may have you wait an hour or two if they want to observe you to make sure there aren’t any issues with the graft.

During the first week or two of recovery, try to eat soft, cold foods to make sure you don’t damage the graft. You shouldn’t eat hard or hot foods that can burn or irritate the graft.

Good foods for the recovery period include:

  • eggs, especially scrambled or soft-boiled
  • yogurt
  • vegetables that have been cooked until they’re soft
  • cottage cheese
  • ice cream
  • gelatin, such as Jell-O

Your periodontist will likely recommend that you use an antimicrobial mouthwash for a couple of weeks to prevent infections, plaque buildup on your teeth, or issues with the graft.

You shouldn’t brush or floss in that area until your doctor says it’s safe to do so. Brushing or flossing before the area has healed can open the wound or cause an infection.

If you’re dealing with any pain or discomfort, over-the-counter pain medications, such as naproxen (Aleve), may provide relief.

Don’t exercise or perform any strenuous activities until your doctor says it’s fine to do them.

Complications of a gum graft are rare. Infections are uncommon. But see your doctor right away if you notice any oozing or unexpected bleeding around the graft site.

In rare cases, the graft tissue may not properly adapt to the graft site. You may need to have the procedure performed again if this happens.

You may not like the way the graft looks after it’s fully healed. If so, talk with your periodontist about gingivoplasty (reshaping of gum tissue). They may be able to modify the tissue to make it look more pleasing to you.

Learn more: Gum disease »

You should be fully healed from a gum graft in one to two weeks. You’ll need to schedule a follow-up appointment with your periodontist a week or so after the procedure so that they can make sure you’re healing properly and the graft is successful.

After about two weeks, you should be able to brush and floss again. Full healing of the area of the graft may take a month or more depending on your overall health and how well you take care of your mouth during recovery.