Important Disclaimer: If you don’t want to hear about the rather gross dental work I had on Friday thanks to my crappy receding gums, you may want to skip this post. I’m serious — if you are squeamish about blood and medical things, you definitely want to move along. I decided to write it mainly so that I remember what the procedure was like, since I may need to have it again in the future.
I sort of hate my whole mouth. As a kid, I had 4-5 years of orthodontic work including “fun” times with headgear, a palatal expander, and a bionator. When I finally got the braces off, I ended up with something called a tooth positioner — similar to a retainer, I think — that was supposed to help keep my teeth in their new positions. At some point, of course, I stopped wearing it and life went on.
Over the last 8-10 years, I’ve begun having gum recession. I’ve done a few things in an attempt to slow it down, like using an electric toothbrush with super soft bristles, but basically, it’s just genetics — and also the fact that guess what? In the 20+ years since I had my braces removed, my teeth have continued to shift. My bite is messed up again, and it’s making the recession worse.
Last year I went to an orthodontist for a consultation to see what could be done about my “bad bite.” I was hoping it could be addressed with something relatively easy like Invisalign, but nope. I would need full-up braces again. Brackets and wires and rubber bands. For two years.
I’m slowly coming around to the idea that I may end up back in braces at some point, but I’m just not ready to do that right now. Still, the gum recession exists, and it doesn’t magically go away once it’s there. Unfortunately it was time to take action on two of my lower teeth that were particularly bad — one of the canines and the premolar next to it.
My dentist referred me to a periodontist, who recommended what she called a “sub-epi” or — DO NOT CLICK the following link unless you are prepared to see some super gross photos, seriously, don’t say I didn’t warn you — subepithelial connective tissue graft. So on Friday, she cut out a small piece of connective tissue from the roof of my mouth, and used it to cover the roots of my lower teeth that were exposed because of the recession. When all is said and done and healed, my gums should fully cover those two teeth again.
I was pretty nervous about the procedure. I’m usually not nervous about medical stuff, but mouth stuff is an exception — it freaks me out. Although getting sedated (on top of a local anesthetic) was an option, it wasn’t a necessity and I chose to go without it. Because of that, I was worried about pain during the procedure and pumped myself up by thinking about how I’ve had a baby, and that hurt A LOT, and this couldn’t possibly be worse than childbirth.
And really? I’m happy to report that it wasn’t bad. The only pain was from the needle used for the local anesthetic, and that was quick. After that, my mouth was so numb that I couldn’t feel a thing! From start to finish took 1.5 hours total, with the core of the procedure taking about 30 minutes.
Recovery so far has been ok. Jose’s taken good care of me and as you can see, Emma has been empathizing with my “mouth boo-boo.” (How cute is that??) I’ve been taking the anti-inflammatory they prescribed (in fact, they had me start taking it the day before the procedure) during the day, and tylenol with codeine (also prescribed) at night…but actually, I skipped the tylenol last night without incident so I guess I don’t need that anymore. They also have me taking an antibiotic to prevent infection, and swishing with an antimicrobial mouthwash twice a day since I can’t brush those teeth for a while.
The pain hasn’t been bad at all — in fact, I would really describe it as discomfort rather than pain. It’s fairly uncomfortable, but it doesn’t actually HURT. They finished at noon on Friday, and for the rest of the day, I used an ice pack on my face — on 10 minutes, off 10 minutes, as they recommended. Swelling is pretty minimal, and you probably wouldn’t even notice unless you look closely. (I’d say the swelling peaked yesterday, and the photo below was taken yesterday around 3:00. Only a little puffiness.)
The lower part of my mouth where the graft went feels very sore. It helps to totally relax my lower jaw, and let my mouth hang open a bit — that way, my lip isn’t resting on the gum as much, and it feels better. But letting my mouth hang open is harder than you’d think (plus it makes me drool), and I tend to tighten back up without realizing it. Because of that, the area seems to feel best in the morning, when my jaw has been totally relaxed all night. I can tell it’s getting better though.
On Friday when they finished stitching up the roof of my mouth, they put in a retainer that was custom fit and acts as a band-aid to protect the palette while it heals. I had to leave it in for 48 hours straight, and that started to bug me a lot — it caused pressure on my teeth and an aching feeling similar to what I remember each time I had my braces adjusted as a teen. I was able to remove it yesterday afternoon and felt a lot of relief at that point, so much so that even though my palette is tender — it feels exactly like a bad pizza burn — I’ve chosen to go without the retainer most of the time. For the next two weeks, I have to wear it when I eat (again, to protect my palette) but otherwise, I can leave it out if I want.
On Friday and Saturday, I ate a lot of soup, oatmeal and ice cream. Since then, I’ve eaten fish and an egg salad sandwich without too much trouble, so chewing with only one side of my mouth is doable…just annoying. I’ll be chewing everything on the right side, and staying away from stuff that’s too firm or crunchy, for at least the next two weeks.
I’m also not supposed to do any intense exercise, i.e. running, for two weeks. Bummer. The nurse said I should listen to my body, and that activity vigorous enough to make my mouth throb is a no-no.
The periodontist’s office told me I’d be able to go back to work the next day, and I agree that was technically possible — but I wouldn’t have wanted to. I’m definitely glad I scheduled the procedure for a Friday, so that I had the whole weekend to relax.
So that’s that — a very long post about my icky gum graft and for anyone who made it this far, I’m very impressed.