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Health Team

Palate Can Provide Tissue to Repair Gums

Posted April 18, 2007 3:01 p.m. EDT
Updated April 19, 2007 4:23 p.m. EDT

— Healthy gums are just as important to producing a nice smile as clean and healthy teeth. But even people with good teeth can have problems with their gums.

Problems with gum tissue often won't heal on their own, and plastic surgery might be needed to repair the damage.

Lauren Georges, for example, had receding gums on her lower front teeth from extensive brushing. As the gum line moved lower, the exposed area of the teeth turned yellow.

"I think I may have been brushing too hard or something like that," the 22-year-old said.

Dentists recommend using soft-bristle toothbrushes and brushing gently in a circular motion with the bristles just at the edge of the gum line.

Mechanical toothbrushes offer good results. They work the teeth in a circular motion, and many models shut off temporarily if too much pressure is applied.

"They're so intense about brushing their teeth that they're really scrubbing the soft tissue away," said Dr. Nadine Brodala, a periodontal surgeon at the University of North Carolina.

Brodala ended up harvesting tissue from Georges's palate and moving it to her gums. The new tissue is attached with sutures.

"The (palate) area pretty much heals as it was before I even touched it, so it's a never-ending source of soft tissue," Brodala said.

Another patient, Carolyn Puckett, had a benign, but growing, granuloma just above a prominent front tooth.

"It was coming up and bringing my lip up with it," Puckett said.

Brodala removed the tissue mass and filled in the area with soft tissue from the roof of her mouth. It took at least five weeks of healing before things began to look much better.

"I was so happy because I'm a real smiley person. I don't really want to be, but I am, and my gums show," Puckett said with a smile.

"I would definitely do it again," Georges said of the gum surgery.