There are many elements that make up an ideal smile; bright, healthy-looking teeth immediately come to mind. But the gum tissue that surrounds and supports those teeth also plays a big role in how appealing your smile will look. There are various cosmetic issues involving gum (gingival) tissue. For example, your smile may look “gummy” — meaning you seem to display too much gum tissue when you smile, or your teeth appear too short.
Sometimes it's the opposite problem — your teeth appear too long because your gum tissue has receded (pulled back), exposing tooth-root surfaces that were covered at one time. Or, you may have an uneven gum line, meaning gum tissue covers some of your teeth more than others. All of these cosmetic gum problems can be successfully treated with cosmetic procedures performed in the dental office.
Excess Tissue. A gummy smile can be caused by excessive gum tissue covering more of the enamel surface of a tooth's crown (visible portion) than normal. If that is the case, a procedure known as “crown lengthening” can be performed, in which gum tissue (and sometimes a small amount of bone tissue) is removed to expose more tooth surface.
Receding Gums. Sometimes your gums can shrink down (recede), exposing a portion of your tooth roots. This causes a cosmetic problem because root surfaces, which have no enamel covering, tend to appear more yellow than the crowns of your teeth. Also, exposed roots can be more sensitive to cold or touch, and can be at greater risk of decay. There are various gum-grafting procedures that can cover exposed roots, which may involve moving gingival (gum) tissue from one site in the mouth to another. For example, roots can be covered with tissue from the roof of your mouth, which is of the same type; or adjacent (nearby) tissue can be moved over to cover an exposed root. Sometimes laboratory-processed tissue from another donor can be used instead of your own tissue. All of these options can be discussed with you in more detail.
Uneven Gum Line. If you have an uneven gum line where some teeth are covered by more tissue than others, it is often possible to recontour (reshape) the tissue for a very pleasing effect. This can be done conventionally with a surgical scalpel or with newer dental laser technology. The advantage of a laser is that it seals the tissue as it sculpts it, making the procedure more comfortable and requiring a shorter healing time.
All cosmetic gum surgery can be performed at the dental office — and it usually requires only a local anesthetic (numbing shot). In fact, for laser surgery you may need only a topical anesthetic applied in gel form. If you would like a deeper level of relaxation, you can have oral or possibly even an IV sedative; but if this is required, you will need a ride home. Laser surgery leaves no open wounds and causes minimal, if any, discomfort, though the anatomy of the area may preclude laser use. An examination is required to determine whether conventional or laser treatment is in your best interests.
Gum tissue grafts will have two sites that need to heal: the donor site from which the tissue was taken, and the recipient site where the tissue was attached. Both of these sites will require stitches, usually of the dissolving type. You will need to eat a softer diet and avoid chewing on that side of your mouth for a few days. Though full healing may take a few weeks, you will be able to resume your normal activities the very next day. Whichever kind of cosmetic gum surgery you may need, the procedures are routine and predictable — and they can do wonders for your smile!