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 okay 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 Music and Headphones
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 okay 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