Have you ever heard the expression “long in the tooth”? This refers to receding gums, a problem that tends to happen as we get older, but it can happen for other reasons besides the natural aging process. When the gums recede or pull back away from the teeth, bacteria can get into the area between the teeth and gums more easily. The roots of the teeth are exposed as the gums recede, and if gum recession is left untreated, eventually the teeth can become loose and fall out. In its earlier stages, gum recession can be treated with a deep cleaning procedure, but when it is more severe, oral surgery called a gingival graft or gum graft may be necessary.
A gum graft involves removing tissue from the roof of the mouth and attaching it to the gum around the exposed tooth root. There are two types of gum grafts that take tissue from the roof of the mouth; which type a patient undergoes depends on several factors. The most common type is called a connective-tissue graft, which takes tissue from under a flap that is cut in the roof of the mouth. The flap is then closed, and the tissue that was taken is applied to the area around the exposed tooth root. A similar procedure, called a free-gingival graft, takes tissue directly from the roof of the mouth. This procedure is usually performed when the patient needs extra tissue to build up their gums in addition to covering exposed tooth roots.
A pedicle gum graft does not take tissue from the roof of the mouth, but takes it from near the tooth that is being treated. A flap of tissue is cut and stretched to cover the exposed tooth root. A pedicle graft can only be done if there is a tooth next to the tooth to be treated that has enough gum tissue to spare.
Gum recession does not have to be a natural part of getting older. Practicing good oral hygiene by brushing and flossing twice a day and seeing the dentist for regular checkups can prevent the problems that can lead to gum recession. Sometimes gum recession is genetic or caused by hormones or other factors we can’t control, but good oral hygiene, eating a balanced diet and not smoking can help to keep your gums healthy.