Here's another in what I hope won't be a lengthy series of "don't worry" blog posts about scary sounding health procedures. (See "Root Canal is nothing to fear.")
I had a gum graft this morning. The worst thing about it was facing the fact that I'm old enough to need one, though I realize that people of all ages get gum grafts.
My dentist referred me to a Salem periodontist because he was worried that the beautiful bridge work he'd just redone, which had cost me more than a VW bug went for new back in the '60s, could be threatened by a receding gumline.
So he cheerily said, "I'd giving you a referral for a gum graft evaluation." That sounded ominous. So naturally I fired up Google as soon as I got home from the dentist's office.
I learned that its formal name is a gingival graft.
The usual approach is to
chop out borrow some tissue from the roof of your mouth. That is sutured on the gum line, where hopefully it finds a happy new home.
Now, on the Internet I've found that most stories people share about medical procedures have an overarching theme: When Things Go Wrong. So at the moment, the #3 Google search result for "gum graft" is titled "The Procedure From Hell."
The same was true when I researched root canals, and mine went fine. It seems that few patients are motivated to write about their experience when the message is, "No problems, mate."
I talked about this with the periodontist at my evaluation appointment. He said that a balance has to be struck between educating yourself online (good) and scaring yourself half to death (bad).
Speaking of death, one of my first questions to him was whether he did grafts using Alloderm, which I'd read about on the Internet. I liked the idea of not having tissue cut out of the roof of my mouth, and I thought that Alloderm was some sort of artificial material.
But I was told, "It comes from cadavers."
My instant reaction was that I didn't like the idea of having part of my gum be made from a dead person. Plus, my periodontist said that a graft is much more likely to "take" when a person's own tissue is used.
Thus at 9:30 this morning I found myself back in his office, getting ready to be injected with several shots of Novocaine.
Reassuringly, after he was done I heard, "That's the toughest part." And it was true.
I was out the door, my VISA card $840 poorer, in almost exactly an hour. I felt less pain than from a filling or crown work. Afterwards I popped some Ibuprofen that they'd given me, but haven't felt any need to fill a Vicodin prescription.
Everybody's different, of course. Your results may differ. For what it's worth, though, here's some tips and observations.
-- I kept my eyes open throughout the gum graft. Given how much it was costing me, I wanted to absorb every moment of the experience. Such as the drops of red on the gloves of the periodontist and his assistant. Be prepared to see some of your own blood, since there's cutting going on inside your mouth. No big deal -- the bleeding stopped soon.
-- Periodontists must make good fly fishermen, who tie their own lures. I was impressed with the dexterity it took to put in the sutures. Of course, I had an extreme close-up view, since the guy's hands were just a few inches away from my eyes.
-- I was fitted for a roof of the mouth retainer at my evaluation visit. Good move. It protects the site where tissue was removed. I'm barely aware of it now, after wearing it for about 11 hours. I was told that it can come off tomorrow, if I want to remove it. There hasn't been any discomfort at all from the roof of my mouth, probably partly because of this protective device.
-- Don't get home and figure that you can eat whatever you want, even if you're feeling no pain. After I took my first bite of spaghetti with semi-tangy sauce, I did feel some pain at the graft site. Bland food has been my watchword today. Tofu and rice. Macaroni and cheese. Coffee (not too hot), for a mood elevator. Mushrooms. Wine went down fine also.
-- I was given some PerioGard mouth rinse to use. Another good move, as that saved me from trying my usual Listerine mouthwash tonight. I suspect the alcohol in it would create another "ouch" moment, but I could be wrong.
-- Five hours after I had the gum graft, I was out mowing the grass. I read some gum graft stories on the Internet where people said they stayed in bed for days afterward. That may be necessary in some cases. But I wasn't told to do anything but live a normal life, which I've been doing all day (aside from trying to elicit some sympathy from my wife so I don't have to wash the dishes or empty the dishwasher).
I'll add my own comments to this post as my recovery period proceeds. If my brain falls out through the roof of my mouth, I'll let you know -- assuming I have enough gray matter left to type coherently.
For now, here's my bottom line: this was another example where my worries about what would happen turned out to be more of a problem than what actually happened.
I mean, my fretting about how painful the gum graft might be caused me more pain than the procedure itself. Sure, the anxiety was psychological rather than physical, but it was pain nonetheless.
So relax, if you're told you need a gum graft. If yours goes as smoothly as mine has so far, there's no need to worry about it.