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If your teeth appear longer than usual or you experience tooth sensitivity to hot and cold, your gums may have receded, making some of the tooth’s root visible. Receding gums are caused by a number of factors, like heavy tartar buildup, gum disease, brushing too aggressively, clenching or grinding your teeth, or genetics.

Because gum tissue can’t regrow itself, the only remedy is gum graft surgery, explains the American Academy of Periodontology. However, people may avoid treatment because they fear gum graft pain during or after the procedure. Here’s what to expect from your gum graft and aftercare to make it as painless as possible.

Types of Gum Grafts

Usually gum grafts are done by a periodontist, which is a dentist who treats conditions of the gums and the bone that supports them. Depending on your situation, your dentist may perform one of the following three grafts, describes the University of Texas Health Science Center.

  • Connective tissue graft. This is the most common type of graft and is usually done for multiple areas of recession. Underlying connective tissue is taken from a flap made on the roof of your mouth and is then stitched over the exposed roots.
  • Free gingival graft. If you have very thin gum tissue that needs reinforcing, your dentist may take a small piece of tissue from your palate and attach it to the existing gum tissue around your tooth. Freeze-dried human tissue from another source can also be used to avoid two surgical sites or when a large amount of tissue is needed.
  • Pedicle graft. This procedure uses gum tissue adjacent to the exposed roots and is only possible if the tissue is thick and healthy. A small piece of healthy tissue is cut away, rotated and then stitched into position over the roots.

Pain Management During the Procedure

Whether you need a graft for one tooth or multiple teeth, your dentist will keep you pain-free during the grafting procedure by numbing the surgical areas with a local anesthetic. After the surgery is completed, they place a dressing over the grafting site to protect it during the healing period. However, once you are home and the anesthesia has worn off, you will experience some discomfort and swelling for a few days. But to ease any pain you might have, your dentist will most likely prescribe a pain medication and possibly an antibiotic to prevent infection. 

Post-Op Care to Reduce Pain

To keep gum graft pain to a minimum and to avoid any unnecessary complications, it’s important to carry out the following after-surgery instructions.

  • For bleeding, place gauze on either side of the site, but not on top of it.
  • Avoid physical activities for the first 24 hours.
  • Avoid pulling your lips to view the wound. Keep your tongue away from the area and don’t remove the dressing.
  • Stay away from hot foods and drinks for a couple days, and stick to soft foods and liquids for the first week. As you return to a normal diet, be careful when chewing near the site.
  • Don’t brush or rinse your mouth the day of the surgery.
  • Keep your toothbrush away from the site for 30 days. When you can brush the grafting area, use gentle movements with a very soft toothbrush.
  • Swish with a mouthrinse like Colgate Total Advanced Pro-Shield mouthwash, which kills 99 percent of germs on contact.

Why Gum Grafts Are Important

After gum tissue has receded, most people find the color difference between their roots and tooth enamel noticeable. More importantly, exposed roots have nerve endings close to the surface that sometimes cause sensitivity to temperature extremes. Root surfaces are also softer than enamel, so when they aren’t protected by gum tissue, they are at risk of root decay. Unless gum grafting is done, the recession can get worse, leading to the possibility of tooth loss. Although before doing any grafting, your dentist will want to correct whatever problem caused your recession.

If the thought of gum graft pain is keeping you from getting the treatment you need, remember that while this procedure may cause a bit of temporary discomfort, your mouth will be healthier and your smile more attractive because of it.