12/03/2013 05:40 EST | Updated 02/02/2014 05:59 EST

My Adventures in Gum Grafting

I had been studying my gums on a regular basis noting how it wouldn't be too much longer until I could see the roots of my canine teeth. This alarmed me. What also alarmed me was the fact that I could not afford to do a damn thing about it. I let nature take it course until I started my deeply discounted tour of dental drama at a university orthodontic program.

During a routine braces tightening appointment with my orthodontist, it was determined that the gums on my lower teeth were in some serious jeopardy. The braces that I've had on for about two years now were doing their job so effectively that when some of my lower teeth began to straighten, it was causing my weak-as-a-kitten gum line to recede further and further.

My orthodontist had been looking after me for two years at this point and I figured that she was rather familiar with the insides of my mouth. I was surprised that all of sudden she declared a state of emergency for my gums and that something had to be done within weeks. She scheduled an assessment with the periodontal clinic situated down the hall immediately after she was finished delivering fresh torture to me that afternoon.

I hesitated taking this appointment as I was starving and beyond cranky from being poked with sharp metal for an hour already that day. I did not want to have another inquisitive doctor poking around my tender mouth flesh and shoving x-ray film against fresh wounds. But my ortho doctor gently inferred that I get the show on the road or risk having my gums roll away from my teeth completely.

Services at the periodontal clinic were priced in the same way as my braces -- meaning it would cost me a fraction of the price compared to private clinics. I would be a fool to turn down the chance for much-needed repair especially when a payment plan was offered. I ignored my pangs of hunger and sat in an examination chair.

The perio doctor and his nurse got down to business with pulling my mouth apart and sent me to the x-ray room. There are a few things in life that make my cry and pass out, such as vomiting, cleaning my bathtub drain and getting mouth x-rays.

I always need to mentally prepare myself for those horrible cardboard inserts which are always too big to sit against the insides of my cheeks. I will gag, forget how to breathe and ultimately cry each and every time.

Here I was about to have this ordeal thrust upon me with no time to chant confidence-boosting phrases at myself in the mirror. Worse still, I was getting dizzy from skipping lunch. One set of x-ray film was jammed into my mouth and the tears started. The kind technician gave me some tissue and called for the perio doctor.

Choking through my pathetic sobs I managed to convince him to skip all this assessment nonsense and just book the gum grafting surgery. He agreed and we were to meet again in a few weeks time for the procedure. I couldn't even think of any appropriate questions to ask such as: how much will this hurt? Will my gums start magically growing after this grafting? What kind of pain meds will I get? (Turns out, yes It will hurt plenty; no my gums won't grow suddenly like lichen in a forest and Advil is the best painkiller I'd be getting.)

Five minutes later I was inhaling a hot dog on the street and I began to get excited about my future gums. I was no stranger to pain procedures at this point of my braces journey so I didn't believe any of the horror stories I had heard about people recovering from gum surgery. Restrictive diets, spitting blood and bouts of pain were a regular occurrence in my life now and I accepted whatever I was getting myself into without worry.

The gum grafting was going to be done to just two of my lower teeth -- the ones that needed the most attention. Once I was nestled into the operating chair my doctor started rooting around my mouth and decided to go above and beyond his call of duty for me. I suppose my previous tears had given him a sense of pity on me and he was going to give me more bang for my buck.

He had noticed a rather funky little knob of scar tissue inside my lower lip that was leftover from a foolish piercing I had in my early 20s. He noticed that more than two teeth had dangerously flimsy gum coverage. Pure love and care was the order of the day from this doctor and his nurse. I felt ready for the disgusting bit of business that was about to happen.

I was injected with a local anesthetic that would block out the sensation of flesh being liberated from the roof of my mouth and then stitched on top of my lower gum line.

After a few scrapes I was quite sure that I was feeling the scraping much more than I should be. Perhaps my body was used to anesthetic at this point and I required much more freezy juice than was anticipated. Three more needles of freezing were pinched into my mouth and I felt brave enough to open my eyes.

Normally the sight of blood doesn't bother me. Granted I've never been shot or stabbed so the most amount of blood I've seen come out of my body was when I required one stitch after slicing my ring finger preparing butternut squash five years ago. I closed my eyes immediately after seeing a mounds of blood soaked gauze on the tray beside me and decided I didn't need to know what was going on.

The procedure took about an hour due to all of the freebie work the doctor did for me and I was on my merry way home in a taxi.

Recovery from the grafting was rather easy. I avoided hot and cold beverages. I got used to packing my face with cotton. The worst part was feeling like the roof of my mouth had a constant burn like that after eating exceedingly hot pizza. Advil didn't soothe this pain, but vodka on the rocks sure did. The newly grafted gum line was actually pain free.

I went to work the next day under the advice that I take it easy with talking to let my gums and mouth heal. I communicated with my co workers with post it notes and Gchat.

I was disappointed to learn that this surgery was unlike a hair transplant as the new gum tissue was not going to grow new gums. What it did accomplish was allowing my gums to stop receding as they now had new tissue holding the weak tissue in place like a strong bear hug from a lover.

My gums are looking healthy now a year later and I can add this procedure to my repertoire of gross out stories when I'm alienating strangers at parties.


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