Gum Graft Makes Grim News

I went to the dentist for my regular bi-annual cleaning and got a piece of grim news in the process. The gum had receded from one of my front teeth and I needed a gum graft to strengthen it.

Taking Care of Our Teeth

Mammy Yokum, L'il Abner, toothless

Mammy Yokum

I have had a lot of work on my teeth—braces, extractions, crowns, root canals, and fillings. I don’t respond well to hearing that I need another procedure, especially one that’s painful and expensive, like a gum graft.

But, hey, we take care of our teeth and keep them healthy as long as we can because none of us want to take our teeth out when we go to bed at night. We also don’t want to look like Mammy Yokum when the false teeth come out.

I called the oral surgeon, hoping that he wouldn’t have an opening for weeks and weeks. Nope. We set my intake appointment for the following week. That, of course, was easy. The surgeon takes a look, explains the procedure, and tells you what to do afterwards. We scheduled the actual procedure for four days later.

The Gum Graft Procedure

flaming pizza, pizza burn, gum graft, dental procedureNow, everyone told me that a gum graft is not particularly painful. The description I heard most often was that it felt like burning your mouth on hot pizza. I didn’t believe them. You wouldn’t either. Here’s how it works:

  • The endodontist numbs up your mouth
  • He cuts a piece of tissue from either the roof of your mouth or the end of the gum (I had the latter)
  • He stitches that piece of tissue over the recession

Now, really, does that sound hot pizza to you? No, it didn’t to me, either. In think anything that involves cutting and stitching equals pain.

The procedure went smoothly, if you can call knowing what they are doing while you lie there smooth. You can’t feel it then but you know when they’re cutting and when the stitches are going in. You also know that you will feel it eventually.

Numb the Whole Head

Let me be clear, everyone in the practice was professional, kind and helpful about the gum graft. They knew what they were doing and got it all done in an hour. That part worked fine: no problems or complications. No excessive bleeding.

Novocaine needle, gum graft, dental procedureThen the Novocain wore off.

Even though the process of injecting the Novocain was not fun, I wish they had given me more. I wish they had numbed my whole head. I wish it had lasted until I got home. Fortunately, my husband had come with me to drive me home and that was a very good thing. It’s easier to keep an ice pack on your chin when you’re not driving and thinking, “Damn, that hurts!” at the same time.

I popped two Ibuprofen as soon as I got home and they helped a lot. It would have been better to take them right in the office as the pain was starting to set in.

A Soft Diet

That night, my husband made me a smoothie for dinner. Sucking on a straw is at the top of the list of Things Not to Do after the procedure so I spooned it up, trying not to open my mouth any wider than necessary. The next day, I ate:

  • Smooth oatmeal for breakfast
  • Tomato soup with crumbled-up crackers and some applesauce for lunch
  • Mashed potatoes with smooshed-up meatballs for dinner

I think I’m losing weight.  But I can’t exercise beyond walking for five days so I miss the chance to burn off a lot of calories. Still, I’ll take what I can get.

Getting Better Every Day

dental insuranceAs with any invasive procedure, it gets a little better every day. I’m grateful that the gum graft will strengthen my tooth. Also, that I could afford it. Dental insurance for retired folks is very expensive and Medicare doesn’t cover teeth.

We found it better to just save they money we would spend on insurance every month and take the hit for bi-annual cleanings. At $1500, a gum graft upsets that model but it’s still better to pay once than to shell out $250 or $300 a month apiece. Maybe it’s time to rethink that, though.

On the whole, I’m glad I got it done sooner rather than later and had less time to angst over how painful it would be. Now I’m on the downslope and mostly off painkillers.  Eating still presents a challenge, though. The really good news is that, when I go back for the follow-up next week, the surgeon won’t have to remove the stitches.

I’m done.

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