Soft tissue grafts and bone grafts are dental procedures used to restore or replace gum or bone tissue that have been eroded. This erosion can be the result of many factors – genetics, poorly aligned teeth, overly aggressive brushing, or periodontal diseases such as gingivitis. The erosion or recession of gum tissue can be serious, because the tissue encases the necks of teeth and protects them from infection and decay. As gums recede, the roots of the teeth can become exposed, causing sensitivity or periodontal disease. Unfortunately, as the gums recede, there is almost always some erosion of bone tissue as well, as it too becomes exposed.
Dental grafting can stop the progression of recession, can restore both the appearance and protective nature of your gums, and can stop future soft tissue and bone loss. By grafting a new layer of protective gum tissue (keratinized gingiva) around the affected teeth, and by grafting new bone to replace that which has eroded, your dentist or periodontist can stop the recession and restore the teeth to a healthy condition, one that is more resistant to future recession and disease. There are several types of gum and bone grafts:
- Soft tissue grafts – In this type of graft, the dentist takes small sections of tissue from the surface skin roof of the mouth and transplants them to areas where tissue has receded.
- Connective tissue grafts – This grafts uses pieces of skin from the undersurface of the roof of the mouth to replace recessed gum tissue and cover exposed tooth roots.
- Tunnel grafts – A more specialized process employs a “tunneling” method to graft new soft tissue both into and under existing gum tissue, creating a more healthy environment for the growth of new natural tissue.
- Autogenous bone grafts – This method transplants bone taken from elsewhere in the patient’s body and grafts it to another area. This is the preferred method, but requires at least two surgical sites, one for the bone source and another for the destination.
- Allograft bone grafts – This type of bone graft is similar, but utilizes either synthetic bone tissue or bone from a medical graft bank. The advantage of this method is that only one surgical site is necessary.
- Xenograft bone grafts – Grafts in which the donor tissue comes from bovine sources.
What can you expect if you get gum or bone grafts?
The grafting procedure is oral surgery, meaning that incisions must be made, so it is usually performed using local or general anesthesia. There should be no pain or unpleasant pressure as the procedure is performed. Because the new tissue has to have time to heal and be incorporated into the original gum or bone tissue, there is a lengthy healing period that may take several months to complete. No discomfort or side effects should be experienced during this healing period, but it may delay other dental procedures; for example, if you receive a bone graft to strengthen your jaw so that it can support standard dental implants or mini dental implants.