7 Gum Graft Surgery Survival Tips

I just had gum graft surgery (also called gingival graft surgery) for receding gums surrounding two of my back teeth. I didn’t realize how common the procedure is until I started talking about it. Most people delay gum graft surgery, probably because there are people online describing it as pain worse than childbirth. I disagree. If you have a good surgeon, you will be fine.

What Is Gum Graft Surgery?

If your gums are receding due to orthodontia, over brushing, genetics or bad luck, you’re likely to need a gum graft. I wish I hadn’t watched the presentation outlining the procedure as I would have been OK not knowing the details. Basically, they cut tissue off the roof of your mouth (the donor area), cut the gums off around your teeth, peel them down, stitch the donor tissue on and then stitch the gum tissue back over that. *Shiver*

I’ve Had Gum Graft Surgery So Here’s What I’d Suggest

1. Upgrade Your Drugs

I was given the option of being awake but numb, being consciously sedated with a drug called Halcion, or an IV drip that would knock me completely under. I still had awesome expatriate insurance, but I hear that in the US, the latter two options are not considered “customary or reasonable” by some US insurance companies, therefore, these gum graft surgery costs might not be covered. Halcion was a $250 upgrade. The IV sedation was $500 per hour and would involve not eating for a certain amount of time prior and all that. I was told the IV was totally not necessary (reserved for people with extreme dental fears), and in the end I agree. With Halcion (and a Valium topper, explained below), I had zero concept of time so if they had done my whole mouth, I would not have been the wiser. Go over your options with your Periodontist and get really comfortable with them.

2. Get The Modern Gum Graft Surgery

The modern version allows for the roof of your mouth to be stitched whereas the old school version left the donor site as a gaping hole. Ouch. I don’t like to look at stitches so I didn’t look, but was told there were about 13 small ones up there.

3. Get A Stent To Help Prevent Bleeding

This was another optional upgrade. My stent was like a retainer that covered most of the roof of my mouth. It puts pressure on the donor area to help prevent bleeding, your tongue from playing with the stitches, and food from getting caught in them. I wore it until my stitches were out and afterward for a few days, only while eating. The newly stitch-free area was tender.

4. Bring Your iPod

It was very helpful to listen to some music during the procedure. To be honest, I don’t remember it much but I took comfort in knowing that my earbuds were in.

5. Have Someone Else Also Listen To Post Care Instructions

I don’t remember them, because some were given after the gingival graft surgery when I was out if it.  And, I was out of it at home for a while. Plus, whoever is taking care of you is going to need to know what to do.

6. Eat Totally Pulverized Food For The First Few Days

Even small vegetable chunks in soups might be hard to deal with the first day or so. You need to get comfortable with your post-surgery mouth and a random chunk getting into that area is freaky. I ate soup like a dog at first, ladling it into my mouth with the spoon upside down on my tongue and then hoisting it into the back of my mouth to swallow. I drank a ton of smoothies.

7. Plan Nothing For About 3 Days After Gum Graft Surgery

You’ll eat less and, therefore, may feel weak. “Eat” a bunch of liquid meals throughout the day. When I made higher calorie and protein filled shakes, I felt noticeably better all around.  Also, if you are in pain, you may need to take a stronger pain killer like Vicodin. Obviously, you will not be able to work or care for children in that circumstance. Speaking of prescription medicines, I also took an antibiotic and used an antiseptic mouthwash.

Pain During Gum Graft Surgery

I had zero. The Halcion also has a slight amnesia effect. However, 40 minutes after I took the Halcion (it’s in pill form), I felt only a little tired. The surgeon’s assistant seemed  surprised and asked if I felt OK enough to have gum graft surgery. I said, no way. She consulted the Periodontist, gave me some Valium, and then all was fabulous. I felt little pinches when they numbed the roof of my mouth and cheek, but that was it. There were also no loud grinding noises, except for once when it felt like the surgeon was scraping my teeth. I was so chill, I did not care.

Pain After The Gum Graft

I do not consider myself to have a sky high tolerance for pain, but found it to be pretty manageable.  It might be because I was expecting much worse. Don’t try to be a hero.  Take the pain medicine.  That sensation of eating a piece of pizza with cheese that’s much too hot, is what you’ll feel on the roof of your mouth sometimes.  I was also sore where they inserted the numbing (Novocaine?) injections on the inside of my mouth. My lips were a little bruised and so was the side of my face.

Anyway, the consequences of delaying gum graft surgery are much worse than the actual procedure.  I had my stitches removed 8 days after the surgery, and the area looked almost completely back to normal. I might need another gum graft on the other side of my mouth where gum receding looks to be occurring again, but next time I won’t be nearly as anxious.

Happy to answer questions if you have them.  Of course, I’m not a doctor, so consult yours first.

Photo credit: istockphoto/nyul

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  1. June 17, 2016 at 1:24 pm — Reply

    It’s perfect time to make some plans for the future and it is time to be happy.
    I’ve read this post and if I could I wish to suggest you some
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    • Anna
      July 13, 2016 at 9:57 pm — Reply

      Can’t find the comment button so ill just “reply” to this one…had my graft done yesterday – 1 tooth (#11). Glad i didn’t read these comments beforehand or I would’ve been scared….

      Dental assistant gave me 600 mills. Ibuprofen at start. Then they injected local and started cleaning for maybe 10 minutes? prior to surgery itself…

      Was numb – didnt feel anything…(except during cleaning on tooth)…I thought they did several incisions on my palate, but I don’t have any stitches up there…Doc did couple more injections about midway thru hour…then more work and stitches…

      Mouth felt funny afterwards, but mainly because of local not having worn off…I took some Boiron arnica Montana pellets about 6 hours after – i didn’t really have pain, but thought I’d better take just in case “it was coming”…

      Can’t really relate AT ALL to these reviewers with pain – I haven’t really had any at all…

      My saliva had a little pink/red in it yesterday, which is completely normal. I took yesterday off from work and today as well as I’d never had this done before and didn’t know what to expect…

      Maybe the key is doing 1 at a time? Maybe the people experiencing pain are smokers? I have no clue.

      I went to Christopher Peterson at uptownperio and it set me back $1400 (no insurance). Hope this helps!

  2. June 14, 2016 at 7:47 pm — Reply

    For those that did not have severe pain, swelling and bruising after their surgery, please consider yourself very fortunate. I had a connective tissue graft surgical procedure in front of my lower front teeth and had a frenectomy at the same time. Tissue was removed from my palette. The procedure itself was not too bothersome to me but the post op period has been very difficult. I just was not expecting to have so much pain, swelling or bruising. This is day 4 for me. I hope tomorrow is better. Thanks to everyone for your comments. I wish I had read some of this information prior to having the procedure.

    • Theresa
      June 30, 2016 at 7:10 am — Reply

      I’m with you Patty, day 4 for me. I don’t think I expected this much pain either. I did eat some oatmeal yesterday morning and this morning, very carefully. Otherwise, no food since other than yogurt the following day and a protein shake yesterday. Mine is right at the lower front teeth as well.

      • Julie
        July 6, 2016 at 9:33 pm — Reply

        Can you tell me how many days you experienced pain on the roof of your mouth? I’m on day 5 and am not handling the excruciating pain. Never did I expect this to hurt this bad.

        • Justin
          July 7, 2016 at 12:36 pm — Reply

          I too just had a gum graft, I’m on the second day however and there doesn’t seem to be any pain on the roof of my mouth.

        • Sheri
          July 7, 2016 at 5:53 pm — Reply

          I’m post-op day 8 and the pain on roof of my mouth is awful. Mine was not stitched closed and I was not given a mouth guard. I’m so ready for it to be healed. The surgery itself was a breeze, but I’m finding the recovery to be more difficult than I anticipated. Hoping I never have to do this again.

          • Emma
            July 24, 2016 at 1:46 am — Reply

            It took almost 3 weeks for the roof of my mouth to heal. The worst day for me was day 1, because the doctor prescribed nothing and his only post-op instruction was about rinsing with salt water. I fell asleep after the surgery and woke up in fantastic pain. I took 800mg of Motrin and felt better within 20 minutes. I made the mistake of attempting to eat soft food that still required chewing. That was painful and frustrating. I never thought the roof of my mouth would heal.

            I found a great rinse that I highly recommend: Dr. Katz’s Perio Therapy mouth rinse. It’s available on Amazon and it isn’t harsh at all. Won’t sting. When I went to get my stitches removed on day 16, the doctor told me I was healing faster than expected, so it must be good to use, but do check with your doctor first, in case I’m totally wrong and it was just a fluke.

          • John
            July 24, 2016 at 11:56 am — Reply

            I’m on day 5-free gingival graft to 8 lower teeth..and I am not happy.
            Taking toradol every 6 hours extra Strenth Tylenol and an antibiotic.also rinsing with peridex. I have a stent for the roof of my mouth and the holes were fill
            With some sort of glue and sutured.i also have the pink gummy stuff covering the surgical site. I would make sure you ask for all of this…if not you will be much worse than me..my palate is throbbing from the swelling but does not burn nor is in “sharp pain” my gums are throbbing and feel the worst.
            Do not eat anything that requires chewing…nothing..purée everything!!
            I am also rising every few hours with salt water and applying ice as often as I can.
            It cost me 2500 for 8 teeth which from what I am hearing is quite the deal..
            Also don’t move!!! For at least 3 days..moving increases BP which makes it throb.
            Drink lots of water and rest..

    • Jennifer
      July 12, 2016 at 3:35 pm — Reply

      Do you mind saying how much you paid? I as well need to have 7 gum grafts all together on the front bottom teeth. I was quoted $6500 -$8000.00 before my insurance which only covers $1000.00. The skin will not be removed from my mouth, the periodontist plans on using pig skin. I’m just curious what other people are paying. I think my quote is extremely high. Thank you

      • John
        July 23, 2016 at 8:56 pm — Reply

        I had 8 teeth done on the bottom in Canada for 2500….8000 is a joke..find another periodontist

      • Emma
        July 24, 2016 at 1:38 am — Reply

        I paid almost $3,000 for three lower front teeth and frenectomy, but $700 of that was anesthetic.

  3. Concerned
    June 10, 2016 at 5:14 am — Reply

    50-50 Chance of Graft Failure

    10 days ago I had Alloderm grafts on both sides of my upper mouth. The left side is apparently doing well. But on the right side, which was more extensive, some of the sutures from the right side popped out, and the surgeon says there is only a 50-50 chance the right side will take.

    I asked him if I would just go back to baseline, how I was before the graft. He said maybe, but maybe it would be worse.

    If it doesn’t take, then what? Any stories? Any advice? Do they have to go in and cut the failed graft out? That can’t be good for my gums. Can I just have it taken out and not replaced? The last thing I want is 2 failed grafts.

    • Emma Levine
      June 19, 2016 at 1:07 pm — Reply


      I had a graft done with Alloderm four years ago and now have to have the surgery re-done, using my own tissue. My surgery didn’t fail, exactly, in that the coverage was good for almost 4 years, but I wasn’t expecting it to degenerate so quickly. I think I may have contributed to its failure by not wearing a bite guard at night.

      So I don’t know about having the Alloderm removed, but I can say that when it goes (and it will go eventually, but hopefully not for a decade or so) you really need to use your own tissue for the surgery.

      Good luck!

  4. May 4, 2016 at 3:18 pm — Reply

    I am going to talk with a periodontist soon about getting a similar procedure done. I have been doing a lot of research about how to get through it and your tip about getting a stent seems like a great idea. I don’t really enjoy the taste of blood and I know that I would play with the stitches quite a bit. I will have to mention that and see what my options are, thanks!

    • Beth
      May 24, 2016 at 6:39 pm — Reply

      I just finished having the entire bottom done and a few teeth on top. I’m 2 weeks out and healing as planned and had a good experience as far as surgeries go. I am 50 years old, and was only on heavy painkillers the day of surgery. After that, ibuprofen was fine. It did kick my butt though with regards to energy. Swelling was worst on day 3; bruising showed itself on day 4 and both went away fairly quickly. I took off 4 days of work. If you mind the instructions, I just don’t think this is a big deal-just inconvenient. I’m glad I did it. Here’s what I wish I would’ve known. 1. Gums looks weird/a bit ugly still. No one else sees it, but I do. The dr promises time will take care of it that they’re healing perfectly. The guns will flatten over time. 2. The roof of my mouth where they took the tissue still feels numbish. I don’t know if time fixes it or not, but I wonder if this is normal. Hope this helps!

  5. Tait
    March 2, 2016 at 11:46 am — Reply

    3 weeks ago I had my grafting procedure done on my gums. I had 4 areas tended to, top & bottom each mouth side Canine tooth and premoller each side. My mouth swelled significantly the first 5 days, I’d treat my face to an icepack 2-3 times a day until the pack was warm. With time, pain pills and eating only soft foods I’ve gotten through the toughest parts of post procedure.

    • Eduard G
      March 25, 2016 at 8:49 pm — Reply

      Hey guys, I had a gum graft done this wednesday march 23. The procedure itself is painless. The doctor used novocaine on the roof of my mouth and also on my lower front tooth. The most anoying part is not eating the foods I like. Both locations of my procedure still sore but tolerable. I have been taking tylenol extra strength. Doctor recomened not to take any other pain medication that contain aspirin, which acts as a blood thinner ( blood thinners increase bleeding). Overall, I am glad is over! To me personally, the worst is not the procedure, but the post-op care.

  6. Molly
    November 8, 2015 at 5:27 am — Reply

    I had my graft surgery on the 19th of October. The roof of my mouth where they took the graft feels funny, like it is numb. My gums are still swollen. Will that go down? How long did it take for others gums swelling at the site to go down?

    • Lori
      December 2, 2015 at 4:45 pm — Reply

      My dentist’s office highly recommends the Sonic Care electric toothbrush and the hygienist said you have to know how to use it properly for it to not cause damage to the gums. I personally prefer a regular toothbrush. I have tried electric and it was causing more recession. I needed gingival soft tissue graft surgery for years, but only just got it yesterday. They had to do my entire mouth because I waited way too long and the damage got worse and worse. I had four bottom front teeth that were moving because of bone loss from the gum recession. Not to my touch, but to theirs. I did not get a second opinion because my old dentist who retired 2 years ago had already told me i needed it several times. but he would only say “you will need it some day”, not “you NEED it NOW.”, otherwise i would have got it done sooner. I was scared to death to have it done, my legs were shaking on the chair just getting the novacaine for it. But then the dentist told me to take deep breaths and she left the room for about 15 minutes to let the novacaine work, the hygienist stayed in the room and talked to me and really helped to calm me down. So when the dentist came back in, i was ready. She did a wonderful job. I was at their office from 9 am till 1 pm. Some of that time was waiting to go into the room, then the hygienist talking to me about the procedure and preparing everything in the room. She gave me 2 advil before we started because i had picked up my prescriptions the day before, but it didn’t say to take the advil before leaving. It did say to take the antibiotic and the anti inflammatory before. I had Alloderm, not from my palette. It went great. Just novacaine. They had music playing the the background and it helped, too. Just doing the novacaine took a long time. It felt like she was stitching, so i was hoping when she was done that it was all done, but no. She had to take breaks during the surgery. She did the left top first, then took a break. then came back and did the right top, right bottom, and left bottom all at once. She was very gentle, though there was some tugging and pushing going on. All in all, it wasn’t so bad, though at the end all i could think is “when is she going to say those words i am waiting for, I’m almost done!” and when she finally said it long after i was first thinking it, it was a huge relief! Drove myself home after, layed on the couch all day and night with ice packs every 10-15 minutes on then off. Drank my ensure and water. Tried sleeping with 2 pillows and didn’t sleep a wink all night. Today, just a little swelling still and no pain yet. i am taking 600 mg of advil every 5-6 hours, maybe that’s why. but even when i didn’t take some all night long till 5:15 am, there was no pain. i am taking them anyways for the swelling. My regular dentist does this type of surgery, but she only does Alloderm, not from the palette. Her techncian tgold me that she is very gentle and she’s like a fairy. and she was right. i am glad it’s over with and can’t wait for my two week appt. to see if she says i’m healing well. 6 week appt. for stitches to come out.

      • Miss Tee
        June 25, 2016 at 3:08 pm — Reply

        You wrote –> “…it didn’t say to take the advil before leaving. It did say to take the antibiotic and the anti inflammatory before.” Your paperwork did tell you to take the Advil before leaving. Advil is an anti-inflammatory. It’s the name brand of ibuprofin, which is an NSAID However, I’m shocked they gave you an NSAID because that also thins the blood a bit. That’s why they tell people they must not take any NSAID’s for 7-10 days prior to surgery.

    • marge
      January 15, 2016 at 12:24 am — Reply

      I had a gum graft week ago on 4 top teeth. Today I had the dressing covering that area removed. I wear a top partial and the partial clasp rests on one of the areas where the gum was grafted. . My peridontist had me put my partial on for the first time today. It felt uncomfortable, but he said it was important to start wearing it. Well here it in this evening and the pain was bad. Removed partial…gum is bleeding at clasp area. It looks like my gum is split horizontally. I’ve read a lot on here about this procedure, but nothing about gum grafts and partials. TBA ks for anyone out there with any experience.

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