person in scrubs sitting across from someone else and holding a model of teeth, pointing at them with dental apparatus

The Unexpected Benefits of Getting a Gum Graft

Oh, look! Another dental post! What fun!

As all of the internet must know by now, I had a dental procedure done two weeks ago. After having previously suffered through several cavities, getting my wisdom teeth out, two root canals, and getting several crowns, I was hoping that I had gotten done all of the different dental work that I would ever need done. But alas, life cannot be that easy.

Earlier this month, I had to return to the dentist to get a gum graft done. As it turns out, the piece of tissue that connects my lower lip to my gums was pulling my gums down so far that they were beginning to expose the root of one of my teeth. Apparently, that piece of tissue is called the “lower labial frenulum.” No, I didn’t giggle every time I said/read “labial”…much.

Before going into the dental office for the procedure, I did what every sane person advises someone to do before going in for a procedure: I Googled.

I read everything that I could about gum graft surgeries, and everything that I found made the procedure sound like next to nothing. You go in, they numb you up, they take tissue from your palate or a cadaver, they suture you up and send you on your way. Great, so it’s no big deal, then! 

Even though this was a procedure that was new to me and stressed me out with its uncertainty, I tried to take comfort in the fact that most sources I found claimed the surgery to be simple with minor discomfort post-operation. On the other hand, people kept asking me who would be driving me to and from the appointment, and I hadn’t been told that I wouldn’t be able to drive myself, so that was a bit worrisome…

The one unpleasant thing that I knew that I would have to deal with was the sutures. I am personally not a fan of sutures. Not physically, just mentally. Humans are not meant to be sewn! I am not a shirt! I generally get squeamish about things under my skin that don’t belong there. Splinters also bother me — as you can imagine, I was thrown off my game at axe league last week when my axe handle splintered leaving pieces of wood in my thumb.

I walked into the procedure fully intent on using tissue from my palate. It was slightly better to do it that way, since the probability that my body would accept the graft would be higher if using my own tissue. I would go through the extra pain of the tissue removal to make sure that the surgery went well. I would be strong.

That is…until the morning of the procedure, when I was freaking out in every possible way. Of course, as luck would have it, I was suffering from two weeks of sleep deprivation, PMS, and general terror at the thought of being jabbed with needles and being laced up like a shoe. I sat down in the chair and told the periodontist that I was chickening out. I would go through with the procedure that was terrifying me, but I needed to make the small concession that I wouldn’t go through the extra cutting and stitching involved in taking the tissue from my palate. Of course, I asked the doctor 20 times over if the cadaver tissue was okay and asked the assistant if she would judge me for “taking the easy way out.”

The doctor assured me that the cadaver skin should work fine for my case and jollily went ahead with plunging a needle into my face and sewing cadaver gums onto my teeth. At one point that was probably 20 minutes in (although it sure felt like an hour), I started feeling pain and the periodontist decided to give me another needle. I asked for a break to let the novocaine set in and he let me sit up for a few minutes with gauze in my mouth. After a few awkward moments of me trying to talk and being unable to be understood from the gauze, my periodontist let me know that I had far less gum tissue on that tooth than he had originally thought. 

Oh, that’s fantastic. Thanks for letting me know! This is where I start to panic.

Assuming we had to be at least half of the way through the procedure at this point, I made the mistake of asking how far along we were.

“Oh, I’m not sure…we’re probably almost a third of the way through?” This is where the panic intensifies.

“Almost a third?!” I replied in obvious alarm.

While I can’t remember his exact answer, I let him get back to work on my face trying not to panic and count the seconds until I was out of the chair. Once I started to feel the tug of sutures, this became more challenging.

“I just can’t seem to tie them tight enough,” the periodontist said to the assistant frustratedly.

OH GREAT! That was really helping my whole “don’t panic” plan.

He decided to give me another break and told the assistant to use suction on my mouth and give me some gauze. I opened my eyes in preparation to sit back up. Opening my eyes turned out to be a massive mistake considering the fact that as soon as I opened my eyes, I was face to face with the suction device, the clear tube pulling straight red liquid. There was so much blood.

“I shouldn’t have looked. Why did I look?” I lamented out loud.

The periodontist looked at me, calculating. “I’m debating putting one or two more sutures in, just to make sure that the graft stays in place.” I nodded, knowing that this was the right thing to do while also feeling a bit displeased about the prospect of more stitches in my mouth. I laid back and let him add them while reminding myself over and over that I was almost done. After a few more minutes, he looked up, told me he’d see me in a few weeks for stitch removal, and disappeared.

I opened my eyes to see all kinds of bloody gauze laying on the dentist tray. And then, as I am wont to do after dental procedures, I cried. The adrenaline drop and relief of having the procedure over with, the depression, sleep deprivation, and PMS hit me all at once, and I couldn’t stop the tears from coming. The dental assistant handed me a box of tissues and let me cry it out for a bit.

Beyond my sudden emotional outburst (or possibly due in part to my sudden emotional outburst) my head was swimming. I had flashbacks of the last time that I got a needle and I had to lay down on my doctor’s bathroom floor. I knew standing up would be a bad idea.

I looked over at the assistant and asked if I could stay there a while longer, not trusting myself to get up. My speech was a bit garbled from the novocaine and the fact that I didn’t have much range of motion in my lower lip, but it seemed as though she understood. She assured me that it was fine, she would just be cleaning the room up for the next patient. I then had a flashback of the first time I talked to this particular dental assistant and she told me she suffered from emetophobia like I did. I knew that if I was her, I would be panicking right about now, worried that the patient in the chair was about to be sick.

“I’m not going to throw up, you know.” I told her. That much I was sure of. While lightheadedness often came with nausea for me, this particular lightheadedness was squarely of the pass-out variety. The only thing I was in danger of was eating the linoleum floor.

After repeating myself a few times since my mouth didn’t quite work right, I got my point across and she laughed at me, telling me again that I was fine.

Every few minutes, she raised the chair a bit more until I was seated. After a few more minutes, they needed to get another patient in the room, so the dental assistant escorted me to the lobby to sit for a while longer until I was safe to drive home.

While the procedure overall was traumatic, I can say that I haven’t really had much discomfort since (besides not really being able to sleep comfortably on my stomach like I normally do). On the other hand, eating has been a bit troublesome since I can only have soft things and can’t chew at all with my front teeth. I’ve spent the last two weeks since the procedure constantly paranoid that I would mess up the graft somehow.

With all of the negatives, however, I’ve decided that I’d also like to try to look at the positive side of things. I’ve actually found several unexpected benefits to getting a gum graft done, so I thought I’d share those here!

You know, the actual purpose of the procedure

Okay, so I guess this one isn’t “unexpected” per se, but it’s still a benefit! Apparently I had some pretty thin tissue and not-so-great gum recession, so this procedure will help to preserve my front teeth. I signed a waiver before the procedure that I understood that the surgery might not be able to save my teeth, and if the procedure failed, my teeth would be “hopeless.” I laughed out loud at this clinical term. Jeez, first you’re called hopeless by your ex, then by your dentist…

I can’t bite my nails

I have been a nail biter for as long as I can remember. I go through phases of letting my nails grow, then quickly chewing them off in a fit of anxiety. One time, when I was younger and always wore acrylic nails, I actually bit all of my acrylics off. Even when I wasn’t biting my nails (real or fake), I was biting the skin around them. I don’t remember the last time my fingers weren’t sporting scabs. Now that I can’t use my front teeth, I can’t bite my nails, and both my nails and the skin around them look better than ever! Something tells me that even once I have fully healed, I will think twice about biting them. Same thing with the insides of my cheeks and lips, as well! Just a bit more awareness about the anxious tic will help at the very least.

I can’t pop zits on my chin

I don’t have terrible acne or anything, but now that I’m off BC, I do break out in my T-zone every month. Since picking at zits is another nervous tic that I have, I will often pick them until they bleed and scab. While my entire face isn’t off-limits, I have been unable to press too hard on my chin to pop zits there. It has been a true exercise in my restraint, and while I haven’t been perfect, at least I’m gaining that awareness again. If you have an anxious tic, you know that sometimes you don’t even register that you’re doing it until the damage is done. Just getting to the point where you’re thinking about it before acting is HUGE.

I am now part zombie

Okay, okay, so according to Editor Josh, “You only become a zombie if the other person is one. ‘Cadaver’ implies non-reanimated corpse”…because he just has to ruin all of my fun. [Editor’s note: It’s true. Ruining Renata’s fun is my primary source of joy.]

I’m sorry but I just think it’s the coolest thing ever that I now have cadaver tissue in my mouth. It just seems like a fun fact to use during future icebreakers or games of “two truths and a lie.” In due time, I suppose we’ll see if I also acquire a taste for human flesh or braiiiiiiiiiiins, but so far that seems unlikely.

On the bright side, Editor Josh did confirm that “now [I] gained another being’s power,” so I’ve got that going for me.

I appreciate food a lot more

I went to the bar the other day with my parents and saw someone eating a salad. Upon seeing them, I sighed and said, “Wow, I must be deprived…even that salad looks good!”

Right now, my diet is very, very limited. In fact, I am probably limiting my diet even more than I need to in an overabundance of caution. I cannot have anything crunchy or anything with small pieces that can get caught in my stitches. This has limited my intake a lot and made me far more appreciative of those foods I used to take for granted. I find myself craving pizza pretty regularly nowadays…I don’t even eat pizza that much! Hopefully, even after this experience is over, I’ll maintain this appreciation and the mindfulness around food that will surely come with it!

I am just so damn proud of myself

Every time I do something new and scary, I try to give myself the credit that I deserve. Not only did I face an unfamiliar procedure, but I stood up for myself every step of the way. When I was scared and upset, I decided to give myself some grace to make the procedure a tiny bit easier and use the cadaver tissue. When I was worried about standing up for fear of fainting, I asked if I could stay seated instead of jumping up and out of the room just to get out of the way. I really advocated for myself throughout this entire experience, and I honestly am tearing up with pride as I type this. You did good, past Renata! Way to go!

As of yesterday, my periodontist confirmed that I was healing well, but would need to wait another two weeks for the stitches to come off. While I am bummed that I have to miss out on my favorite foods for a while longer, I am beyond relieved to hear that the healing process is going well and will gladly wait to indulge until I am fully healed so that I never have to go through this process again. In the meantime, think about me while you eat all the foods!

8 thoughts on “The Unexpected Benefits of Getting a Gum Graft

  1. Modern medicine is amazing! I’ve not experienced grafting of any kind, but I did have my upper frenulum removed when I was younger and although I was shot up with Novocain, I still felt every bit of pain (I think because of my being a redhead…). And because I was young (around 8-10) the doc and his assistants thought I was just a squirmy child and ended up being held down by 2 grown adults. Tra-ma-tized I tell you!

    I’m also very proud of you for advocating for yourself. It’s so hard in those moments to voice your needs, but you did it!! Kudos.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh no! That’s awful, my friend. I’m so sorry to hear that you went through that 😔 it’s such a shame that people don’t trust children!!!! Ugh, I couldn’t imagine going back to the dentist ever after that…

      Thanks so much!! Yes, I was waiting to feel mad at myself for “taking the easy way out” with the cadaver graft, but I just felt so proud of myself! My needs are important, and it’s good to let them be known🥰

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Just by pure coincidence I just saw an article that the famous female boxer, Rhonda Rousey will be getting the same procedure done. How odd that I’ve never in my life heard about frenulum grafting and how twice in one day read about 2 separate instances. Crazy!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hahaha! The universe is a weird place!! Yeah, I know that my lower frenulum was the issue, but I don’t think I knew that they were going to remove it. I ran my tongue over the area once after eating to make sure there were no crumbs near my stitches and I panicked when I felt a hole in my mouth! LOL. I guess they removed it so the issue won’t happen again, which is fine by me!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I have the tiniest bump on my upper lip from where mine used to be and because I have gapped front teeth it gets stuck in my gap every so often when either when I’m eating or talking and it hurts like the dickens!

        Liked by 1 person

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