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Gum grafts are dental procedures used to replace receding gums. A number of things can contribute to gum recession, including periodontal disease and excessive toothbrushing, and while the problem starts out as cosmetic in nature, it can lead to serious health issues if not addressed. Grafts use either soft or hard tissue, depending on the location, to restore the gum line. Because recovery is painful, patients should plan to take some time off after the procedure to heal.
The dental term for gum tissue is gingiva, and there are actually two types of it in the mouth. Gingiva mucosa is soft, flexible tissue, while keratinized gingiva is a much harder, designed to protect the roots of the teeth. When gums begin to recede, the soft tissue usually disappears first. If caught early, a soft tissue graft can be performed with tissue from other areas of the mouth or another donor. This will restore the gum line, and by working with a periodontist, the patient can prevent it from happening again. If the gums have deeply receded, a connective tissue graft may be needed. Connective tissue grafts user firmer gingiva to protect the fragile areas of the teeth.
Most gum grafts are performed for health reasons. When the roots of the teeth are exposed, it can lead to cavities and infections, which can potentially pose health risks for the rest of the body. In extreme cases, receding gums can lead to bone loss in the jawbone, which will require painful and lengthy bone grafts to regrow. In other instances, the recession is minor, but aesthetically troubling, and the patient receives grafts to even out the appearance of the teeth and gums. Usually, a dentist or periodontist will suggest that a patient may want to consider gum grafts. The patient will be referred to another practitioner if the primary doctor does not offer them in his or her practice.
Like other grafting procedures, gum grafts take time to heal. The oral surgeon will provide directions for care, which commonly include using saline rinses, special mouthwash, and eating a restricted diet. The healing process may be accompanied by pain, which is addressed with moderate use of painkillers. Regular dental checkups will be required for several years after the procedure to ensure that the grafts have taken correctly. During the checkups, general oral health will also be assessed, and the dentist may make additional recommendations for dental care.