If you’ve been told by your hygienist, dentist or periodontist that you need a “graft,” don’t panic. A tissue or gum graft may be necessary to protect your teeth from the damaging effects of periodontal disease and gum recession. Recession can be caused by many things including:
- Periodontal disease
- Physical trauma (brushing too hard, too often or with a hard brush)
- Tooth position
- Gum tissue that is naturally thin
Recession can also make the tooth sensitive to hot or cold temperatures, more prone to root decay and bone loss. Soft-tissue grafts are used to add more gum tissue. This can accomplish several things:
- Prevent further recession
- Cover the exposed root
- Stop the sensitivity
- Improve the look of the tooth
Some people’s gums are naturally very thin. This increases the likelihood they will recede. In these cases, a soft-tissue graft may be done to prevent problems in the future. There are three different types of soft-tissue grafts:
- FREE GINGIVAL GRAFTS Similar to a connective-tissue graft, free gingival grafts involve the use of tissue from the roof of the mouth. But instead of making a flap and removing tissue under the top layer of flesh, a small amount of tissue is removed directly from the roof of the mouth and then attached to the gum area being treated. This method is used most often in people who have thin gums to begin with and need additional tissue to enlarge the gums.
- CONNECTIVE-TISSUE GRAFTS This is the most common method used to treat root exposure. During the procedure, a flap of skin is cut at the roof of your mouth and tissue from under the flap, called subepithelial connective tissue, is removed and then stitched to the gum tissue surrounding the exposed root. After the connective tissue — the graft — has been removed from under the flap, the flap is stitched back down.
- PEDICLE GRAFTS In this procedure, instead of taking tissue from the palate, it is grafted from gum around or near the tooth needing repair. The flap, called a pedicle, is only partially cut away so that one edge remains attached. The gum is then pulled over or down to cover the exposed root and sewn into place. This procedure can only be done in people who have plenty of gum tissue near the tooth.
Some dentists and patients prefer to use donor tissue instead of tissue from the roof of the mouth. Sometimes tissue-stimulating proteins are used to encourage your body’s natural ability to grow bone and tissue. Your dentist can tell you which method will work best for you.