Receding gums is not just an aesthetic issue. When the gum line starts to pull back from the teeth, it can lead to increased sensitivity and other oral health issues down the line, including periodontal disease and tooth loss.
Gum grafts are an excellent way to regenerate lost gum tissue and restore your healthy smile, and you have the option to use your own soft tissue or donor tissue as the graft material. Each option has different advantages and drawbacks, and the ultimate decision will be based on your individual situation. Here’s a brief guide on the options available:
Types of patient tissue grafts
If you choose to use soft tissue from your own mouth (called an autograft), you’ll have the option of a connective tissue graft or a free gingival graft. Both graft types involve taking tissue from the roof of your mouth and attaching it to the exposed tooth root where gums are receding, but in slightly different ways.
During a connective tissue graft, the dentist will open a little flap, or “trap door,” in order to remove a small piece from the layer of connective tissue underneath. Connective tissue grafts are less invasive than free gingival grafts and tend to have a more aesthetic result, as the tissue will seamlessly blend into the surrounding gums.
A free gingival graft doesn’t require making a flap—instead, the dentist will harvest the outer and inner layers of tissue from the roof of the mouth before using it to cover the exposed tooth root. Free gingival grafts are ideal for areas of gum recession that need to be thickened or reinforced with stronger gum tissue, although the color matching may be a little more noticeable than with connective tissue grafts.
Types of donor tissue grafts
The main advantage of using donor tissue for gum grafts is there’s no limit in how many areas can be treated at once. Autografts, on the other hand, can only address a few areas at a time due to the invasive nature of tissue harvesting. The two types of donor grafts available are allografts and xenografts.
Allograft tissue, which refers to tissue from the same species, is harvested from cadaver skin that has been sterilized to remove all living cells, proteins, viruses, and bacteria. Following the gum graft procedure, the donor tissue will blend well with your own gums.
Xenograft tissue, which refers to tissue from another species, is harvested from either bovine (cow) or porcine (pig) skin, and sterilized similarly to allograft tissue. This donor tissue will also blend well with your own gum tissue.
Autografts vs. donor grafts
There is no inherent superiority among types of gum graft material. Your individual situation will dictate which option is best for you. But there are clear pros and cons to each:
- Provides predictable results – proven long term studies
- All natural from your own self gum tissue
- Increases gum thickness
- Two sources of blood supply available, one from the flap and one from the recipient bed
- More discomfort following the surgery due to a second surgical site
- Can only address a few areas of gum recession per procedure
- Tissue integrity varies based on the harvest location and harvest quality
Donor graft pros:
- Can be used to treat an entire arch or mouth of receding gums in one procedure
- Less pain and discomfort due to no harvest site within the mouth
- Can grow a large amount of strong gum tissue
- Preserves existing gum tissue and blood supply
Donor graft cons:
- Need adequate quality gum tissue to start with
- Do not work as well with teeth that are inclined, rotated, or feature bone loss
- More technique-sensitive, requiring significant training
Gum grafts at San Diego Periodontics & Implant Dentistry
If you have receding gums that are affecting your smile, oral health, and ability to eat your favorite foods, San Diego Periodontics & Implant Surgery can help. We can answer all your questions about Gum Recession using your own tissue or donor tissue, and help you make the best decision for your individual needs. For more information or to schedule a consultation, call us at (619) 543-0905.
Related: Learn about the Pinhole Surgical Technique