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Receding gums and gingivoplasty: can it bring your gum line back?

Gingivoplasty is a procedure used to reshape your gums. Our clinicians share what the procedure does to your gums and whether this can help with gum recession.

Gum recession and your health

When your gums recede, disease-causing bacteria get trapped and build up below your gum line. That bacteria makes its way into other parts of your body which can cause issues down the line. Studies have shown that periodontitis (gum disease) is linked with many other health conditions including diabetes and heart disease.

If you've been Googling around about gum recession, you might have stumbled on a few procedures for your gums like: 

  • Gingivoplasty,
  • Gingivectomy, or
  • Gingival Grafts

Here's what you need to know about these different procedures.

What is gingivoplasty?

Gingivoplasty is when a surgeon reshapes the gingiva (aka "gums" to us regular people) to appear more "natural." This procedure is most often used for patients who have a "gummy smile" - gums that come down far over the teeth. While it is often used as a cosmetic procedure, it can also be used after a gingivectomy to support your oral health.

To do a gingivoplasty, a periodontist uses a scalpel, laser, or electrocautery to cut away a portion of the gums. Clinicians have started to favor using lasers because the heat also kills bacteria in the area where the cut is made.

Gingivectomy versus gingivoplasty?

A gingivectomy is much more involved than gingivoplasty. While gingivoplasty removes part of the gums, gingivectomy is complete removal of a section of your gums around one or more teeth with the goal of eliminating and reshaping loose, diseased gum tissue. This get rid of unwanted pockets between the teeth and gums where bacteria can get trapped.

A gingivectomy is used when you have gum disease that has started to pull back gum tissue, and threatens to damage the bones supporting your teeth. Removing the gums allows a periodontist to access deep pockets under your gum line to keep them clean and stop the progression of your gum disease. While it allows your dentist to access under your gums, it also means that your gum line will appear further back on your teeth.

Gingival grafts for receding gums

Gingival or gum grafting is when a small amount of new gum tissue is placed in an area that needs more gum tissue (e.g. exposed roots). This procedure is recommended to prevent gum recession from getting worse and to protect the roots of your teeth.

There are three types of gum tissue grafts performed most often: the connective-tissue graft, free gingival grafts, and pedicle grafts. 

⚠️WARNING⚠️ If you get queasy reading about surgeries, you might want to skip over these bulleted points.

  • Connective-tissue grafts. This is the most common type of gum graft. Your clinician will cut a flap of skin from the palate, or mouth of your roof, and from under the flap remove "subepithelial connective tissue." This tissue is then stitched to the gum tissue surrounding the area where more gum is needed. Afterward, the flap on your palette is stitched back down.
  • Free gingival grafts. Like the connective-tissue graft, free gingival grafts use tissue from your palette. But instead of cutting a flap and removing tissue, a small amount of tissue is removed directly from the roof of the mouth and then attached to the gums. This method is used most often in people who have thin gums to begin with and need additional tissue.
  • Pedicle grafts. Tissue is grafted from gum around or near the surgical area. A flap (aka a pedicle) is cut so that one edge remains attached. Then the loose tissue is pulled down to cover the exposed area and sewn into place. This procedure can only be done in people who have plenty of gum tissue near the area that needs gum tissue.

There are even dentists who use graft material from a tissue bank rather than your own mouth. The right method for grafting and source of tissue will depend on your needs, and the circumstances in your mouth.

When gingivoplasty (or another procedure) might be right for you

If you feel that you have a "gummy smile" or want your gum line to look more even, chat with your dentist about if a gingivoplasty might work for your smile. If you're experiencing receding gums, gingivitis, or gum disease, be sure to see your dentist regularly to determine if a procedure is required to support your oral health.

"If your dentist recommends one of these procedures, as a first step I recommend consulting with a periodontist who specializes in the treatment. Setting up time with the specialist to discuss your goals, how the procedure will work, and to weigh the alternatives is a great way to make sure you're doing the best for your smile and health," shares Wally hygienist Sarah Clark, RDH.

What can you do to keep a healthy gum line from home?

Here are our top techniques to help you combat receding gums

  • If you use a manual toothbrush, consider upgrading to an electric sonic toothbrush. That means the bristles pulse in a way that's effective for cleaning and safe for your gums.
  • If your toothbrush has medium or hard bristles, throw them out and buy a soft-head toothbrush.
  • While good old fashioned elbow grease is required to scrub the food caked on a pan, the same technique does not apply for brushing your teeth. Be gentle when you brush, and if you have an electric toothbrush, let the brush guide your hand.
  • Brush at least twice per day for two minutes to ensure you're scrubbing all the nooks and crannies around the gumline.
  • Floss or use a water pik daily to keep the spaces between your teeth clean (of course we had to mention this).
  • Wear a night guard if you grind or clench your teeth.

Understanding the nuances of your mouth by chatting with an oral care professional is also highly recommended so you can adapt these techniques and learn of others to keep your gums healthy from home. 

Gum recession is one of the top concerns with our members and we really enjoy helping them address it from home. If gum health is a priority for you, try out our at-home starter kit and connect 1:1 with your virtual hygienist to discuss the right at-home techniques to stop gum recession from getting worse.

Want to learn more about gum recession? Check out "Gum Recession: Your ultimate guide" for everything you need to know, from how to keep gum recession from getting worse, the right products or procedures for gum recession, and what braces do to your gums.

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