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The Procedure from Hell

Years ago-- in the last of my teenage years, I bit into a seemingly innocuous kernel of popcorn. It was popped and everything. Delicious as it was, it had a nefarious mission to complete-- sending me on a mission to the most tortuous dental procedure of my life.

If you recall, popcorn has remnants of the original shell still attached to it. These "corn shrapnel" are sharp and rigid. As I was chewing my popcorn, one of these remnants snagged a piece of my lower gumline in the front of my mouth. It hurt, but not that bad-- mostly it just felt strange.

Days later, I got a weird sensation in the lower front front of my mouth, almost like something extra was there. I checked it out in the mirror and to my horror, my gum had receded sharply directly underneath one of my lower teeth-- in the area where that piece of popcorn had snagged!

I went to the dentist, who told me that it was probably nothing to worry about, but that I should see a periodontist-- a gum doctor, so to speak-- to be certain. To this point in my life, I had no idea what a periodontist was, and quite frankly I didn't care.  That all changed, and rapidly so.

I made an appointment with the periodontist and went to see him. I immediately got the same feeling that you might expect at a used car lot-- like you are about to be fooled, big time. I put that feeling aside and started getting examined. The doctor called his nurse and then rapid fire he went through each and every tooth in my mouth with some sort of metal instrument, calling out first the formal tooth number (each tooth in the human mouth has a number assigned to it for dentists to use as a reference), and then a measurement in millimeters, both of which his nurse dutifully jotted down.  I supposed he was measuring the pocket depth of all of my teeth.

Then he sat down and broke the news to me: I needed to have a "gum transplant" to resolve the popcorn-kernel issue. I asked what would happen if I just ignored it, as it didn't hurt. He told me that my tooth would eventually become weaker and weaker (since the root was more exposed), and eventually fall out. The gum transplant or soft tissue graft, was my only option according to him.

He explained the grafting process to me, and I became increasingly nauseous with each passing step. First he said they would cut out a piece of my pallet (the roof of your mouth!), then they would cut open my lower gumline "like a garage door" and apply this now liberated piece of raw flesh to the wound. Then they would "close the garage door" and I would be "all done." By the way, they also needed to do a frenectomy, or a cutting of that little chunk of tissue that connects your gum to the inside of your lips, to allow the surgery to succeed. What a bonus.

Needless to say, this did not sound fun, and I tried every angle to find an answer that would lead me to avoid this procedure-- with no luck. Every time the periodontist would conclude that if I didn't correct this soon, I would lose the tooth. I asked why the graft had to come from my mouth instead of something synthetic, and he offered up a story about how they had tried gum grafts using a product derived from cows, but that the result was unpredictable and further, pointing out that I didn't want to have cow flesh in my mouth for the rest of my life.

In response to my question of how painful the procedure was, he offered up an anecdote of a patient that was having gum transplants performed throughout the whole of his mouth, and how this gentleman would come in once a week, listen to music with headphones while the procedure happened, and walk out no problem-- in other words, it was no big deal. LIES, all of them.

Having no alternative presented to me, I VERY reluctantly agreed to schedule the procedure and walked outside to leave. As I got to my car, I actually was overcome with emotion and I cried a bit-- out of a mix of self-pity, stress, and fear. This procedure sounded horrendous, and even past that, I had just finished healing from a very complicated surgery where both of my jaws were operated on for an unrelated issue just 6 months prior. After that, I thought I was done with dental procedures. Wrong. I sighed, accepted my fate so to speak, and moved on.

The day of the procedure came, and remarkably I had pumped myself up to not be so afraid of it After all, if there was a guy coming in once a week to do this, then I could do this one-shot deal without a problem.

The doctor came by and the procedure began. Numerous needles containing local anesthesia were put out on a tray, and the doctor began injecting my mouth in various spots. "This isn't the worst thing..." I remember thinking to myself.

Then, he pulled out a needle that was not like all the rest. This elephant needle reflected the light in the room. I knew where this was going-- this was for the pallet. Your pallet is rock-hard tissue, and I had wondered how in the world he was going to numb me there if he couldn't given an injection in the area. Wrong again.

He took this horse needle and jammed it into my pallet. It literally felt like I fell face first on a sharpened pencil and it just happened to ram itself into the roof of my mouth. After the initial agony, he started to deliver the anesthesia As he squeezed the needle, I felt an insane pressure building in my pallet as the liquid clearly had no where to go. I couldn't talk, so I grunted in misery and he told me that it was almost over.

He eventually emptied his load, and then began the procedure in earnest... within 5 minutes, he announced that he was done preparing the lower gum, which was much faster than I had anticipated. I had felt nothing during this portion of the procedure, and I literally didn't realize he had done anything besides tug on my lip a little.

So I thought to myself that perhaps this wouldn't be as bad as I had envisioned. WRONG.

The second portion of the procedure was the "harvesting" of the replacement gum tissue from the pallet. Literally, they take a razor blade and shave off (his words) a piece of the pallet, which will purportedly grow back to normal.

Well I saw him take the razor blade out, and I braced myself expecting that the pyschological pain of thinking about what is going on in my mouth would be far worse than the actual pain of the procedure-- given how fast and painlessly he had completed the first part.

As he began cutting, my entire body screamed... I felt it. I figured this was normal, and so I tried to suck it up and deal with it... but as he kept cutting, I kept pulling further and further back in my chair with agony. Finally, I felt the blade go up deep into my pallet and I couldn't cut it anymore. It was the worst pain I have ever experienced in my life, I nearly hit the ceiling, and tears began pouring out of my eyes.

The doctor became extremely alarmed and yelled at me: "You can feel this!?!?" to which I mumbled 'yes.' He frantically called for his nurse to administer more anesthetic to the pallet... and back into the pallet they went with the horse needle, and again with the insane pressure as the drug was released.

He apologized profusely, then said he would return in 5 minutes when the anesthetic had taken effect. He came back, and finished off the procedure without incident. I was seriously in such shock at the pain I had experienced, that I detached for the last portion of the surgery.

But the fun wasn't over...yet. After taking soft tissue from the roof of your mouth and placing it elsewhere, the doctor wants the body to regenerate the missing soft tissue.  What it felt like from the inside was a gigantic, raw crater in the back lower half of the roof of my mouth. So they pack the depression with cotton and then build a wax retainer to keep it in place at all times for two weeks.

This was a huge annoyance, as there was a large foreign object in my mouth at al times. But every now and then it would get shifted out of position by food or talking, and any contact with it would cause me great discomfort-- pain and altered sensation both, so I was happy to have the protection. The front of my mouth-- the recipient of the gum transplant-- only hurt the first few days, but after that was fine. The worst post-op pain were these throbbing pains I would get every now and then where it literally felt like my mouth was regrowing the lost tissue at that very moment.

I went back in two weeks to get the stitches removed, and the doctor said I had a fabulous result. I looked in the mirror, and it looked far from fabulous... there seemed to be a big bulbous protrusion where my old gumline had been replaced by this random part from a distant place in the mouth. But the recession issue that started this all was indeed fixed... and over time the bulbousness dissipated and today, almost 8 years after the fact, I'm glad I had it done and happy to say it looks normal. I still think this surgery is rather barbaric (I've still never felt a worse pain), extremely disruptive and in desperate need of innovation as to solve one problem they create significant, albeit temporary, other ones.

And yes, I'm extremely careful eating popcorn now
VAGreg VAGreg 16-18, M 163 Responses Mar 28, 2006

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Wow, I would say that Ive done this 3 times. The first was with my own palate as the gum donor. This was quite uncomfortable but not the ridiculous scenario the author describes. The second I got both lower quadrants done together with Alloderm. To my surprise, it took well except one tooth. The only drawback was I had to have stitches in my mouth for 3 months. I just went back yesterday, 5 months later to have the one tooth fixed and they took a slice off my upper back gum on the right side and didnt even stitch it. They state that there are limited blood vessels up there and they were right. So far so good, I havent even taken any pain meds. This surgery isnt pleasant. But I agree with others, just make sure you see a PERIO that has great reviews etc. Also, I would advise to go with the Alloderm instead of the the other way, regardless of cost. The palate surgery part sucks, just plain sucks. Period

I am 17 years old and just had this procedure done. Those who are reading this today, do NOT take it to heart because this sounds like what my Periodontist called the "old method." My Periodontist was great. He was very gentle with the Novocain so the discomfort was minimal for the graft site AND the palate. He probed both areas to ensure they were numb before beginning and asked many times if I was okay. I was told that the more common procedure now is to make one incision line in the palate, remove the needed tissue, and stitch the wound shut, so no waxy retainer is needed and there is no open wound. I would highly suggest mentioning this to your Periodontist over the old method because after the bleeding stopped I felt no discomfort whatsoever in my palate. The area where I feel any pain (2 days later) is where the graft site and the frenectomy were.

I am 15 years old and believe me- this procedure is not even that bad. I am incredibly scared of needles and blood and pain, and the experience wasn't bad at all. The needle on the palate of the mouth literally felt like nothing. I could not hear or feel a thing. After the numbness wears off, you are going to feel some pain around the area. But it's not overwhelming, and you'll be perfectly fine.

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STOP! Before you go cry and decide that you'd rather have your teeth fall out, just listen to me for a minute. I just had this done and it's not this bad. I had to get a graft done on my two bottom front teeth due to orthodontia. You should have a periodontist you're comfortable with. My periodontist offered to sedate me and even prescribe Vicodin to me for afterwards. (I found neither necessary) The Novocain shot on top hurt as much as on bottom for me. What we see here, is a person who, unfortunately, has a terrible periodontist. People who have a terrible experience are more likely to post it than those who have a good one. If you look past this post, there are many that will tell you good things.

You described it perfectly. I have had two tissue grafts in the last six months. I have IgA deficiency so it takes even longer to heal. It is the procedure from hell!

I had a Connective Tissue Graft (CTG) yesterday. My periodontist uses the new method of suturing up the upper pallet after removing the harvested connective tissue. She described it as "removing a drawer". The procedure went well yesterday and the only discomfort I experienced was the injection of lidocaine into the upper pallet. Was not too bad, but was the only pain I had. I think the worst part was me visualizing in my mind what she was doing which made me tense. I knew she was cutting, and although I could not feel it, I imagined what it looked like and that made me tense and nervous. Today I feel quite well. I have to go back at some point and have the lower front done. Now I know what the process is like I am not as nervous about going back again for the same procedure.

Man, I am currently healing from this and it is horrible. I just have a raw open wound in the roof of my mouth, no sutures to cover it, no wax retainer. The gauze that was glued to it came off after like 18 hours and now 4 days later I still dying. I've been eating soup and it burns so effing bad I can even describe. I just want to be healed now :***(

I had the surg done,I would not wish it on anyone,my problem is that it has been 7wks and the front lower teeth hurt.I was told the Graf did not take as good as it should have,so you guessed it I have to have another.The teeth hurts with a constant dull hurt.So in 3 wksI get to go thru the pain all over again.Wish I didn't but I guess I have no choice.

I had this done exactly 5 days ago and after reading this and the responses, I am so incredibly grateful for the experience I've had. I chose to be sedated via IV and have zero memory of the procedure whatsoever. The first day was moderately painful, but really not all that bad, especially with the pain killers they gave me. Not even a week later and it really doesn't bother me at all, I just cut my food really small and chew it in the back of my mouth. I go back again in 4 days to have it checked on but overall it's not been too bad!

Hi great story but made me shudder of what you went through. I had a graft taken from my palate a week ago, and like you said the worst pain ever and still is every day with various throbbing pains. Can't eat, drink or talk properly! I think every implant dentist should have this procedure done before they start on their patients, then perhaps they'd realise how painful it really is. Take care. Roger

I FEEL YOUR PAIN!! Now before anyone can call me a baby.. I have had two children with natural child birth, and three years ago had three of my vertebrae fused. I KNOW pain, and just had this same procedure exactly seven days ago. I am miserable! I was lucky in that I had no pain during the procedure, but right now even taking a sip of water feels like "I fell face first into a pencil." As the author put it. This is every bite or sip. I just saw the doc today and he said everything was healing beautifully, and that the pain was just part of the healing process. This crap HURTS! Almost brings me to tears several times a day.

I wonder if someone can help me.

I had 2 implants one of which created a small hole in my gum above the implant. Since that time (over 6 months) the periodontist has been doing tissue grafts, etc. to close the hole in my gum at no cost because the implant caused the hole in the gum.

None of the procedures were successful in that altho the hole was closed; then there was a gap between the gum and the tooth. This last procedure was supposed to be simple! He was going to open a flap in the gum and resuture it to make it tight against the gum. Instead, a buccal fat pad emerged (he said he'd never seen anything like it before) and he had a difficult time trying to stick it under the gum in order to resture. It kept on popping out in different places. During the prodedure he actually consulted an oral surgeon.

Now, I'm healing and 4 days later my cheek is still ridiculously swollen and I've had a lot of pain. Psychologically, I'm at the end of my rope here. I think he should consult with someone else to resolve this problem once and for and and since he created the problem he should pay for the expenses.

I just had this very procedure done except across the length of 3 of my front teeth to fix a 'hole' in the gum from a root canal that didn't heal completely from 2 years ago - I'm currently 32 and a mother of 2. Your recounts of this procedure are very accurate and are still performed the same today. Sorry, to hear the freezing in the palate didn't take initially for you...this procedure is horrible enough without any extra misery. I had this procedure 7 days ago now and the area that received the graph is most uncomfortable and my chin is aching....going in to see the doc today because I have a feeling something is not right - the pain is getting worse in the front area, rather than better! I also can't take any 'pain-killers' due to an underlying health issue and the 'anti-inflammatories' don't help much with the pain. The dressing on the palate fell off on day 3-4 and having that area exposed is making eating/drinking anything most painful/difficult, plus I've had to stop the area from bleeding by applying pressure as recent as last night (took an hour to get it to stop). The dentist/doc told me the same thing about people getting this done 'weekly' and not having any issues with it...so, I had no anxiety or fear about getting it done - I was under the assumption that it would be relatively painless and I would recover quickly. Well, boy was I wrong....and that whole positive attitude thing and mind over matter --- just hasn't panned out for me! lol!

I had the same procedure and am on day 4 of recovery. Can not say that recovery is a walk in the park but am glad I had the procedure done. I had no pain at the time of the surgery as I opted to be sedated. It literally felt like I blinked and the procedure was done. I was prescribed T3's, the mouth rinse and ibuprofen every 4-6hrs for pain management and as long as I don't miss any dosages the pain is not too bad. If I try to go longer without dosing, I have pain that makes me google other peoples experiences as I can not believe the amount of pain I am still experiencing after 4 days. I highly recommend taking a few days off work if you plan to have this procedure. I find the more I talk the worse the pain so try to rest up as much as possible to speed up the recovery.

Sorry mvp83, have to disagree with you. I would not consider the author a baby. At 45 years of age, the 3 gum graft surgeries I've had in the last 1 1/2 years are the second most painful things I've ever experienced, right behind the four hours of my palate splitting in half when I was 17. I've done every other dental procedure without any anesthesia (novocaine - makes me ill), as after the palate splitting incident - to me there has been no other horrendous pain like that and I did it without anything, not even a topical. I've suffered a double concussion and had to have rhinoplastly on my nose because it was shattered, I've given birth. There is nothing - not even pulling a tooth, a root canal - NOTHING like palate pain and gum graft surgery.

And I have a top notch periodontist.

so sorry you had a bad experience.. my procedure went very well.. i felt nothing... but i have to admit that i had nitrous gas while he gave me the injections... my recovery is going well too... soreness where the graft and frenectomy were done.. i have a puddy paste stuck to my palate... no pain there at all...

Had mine done 5 days ago. Procedure was painless except for 4 shots, but aftermath has been rough. Constant throbbing pain for which I am taking 1000mg Tylenol and 600mg ibuprofen together per his instruction, Vicodin did not touch the pain. Still quite swollen with a hard lump there, can't smile or open my mouth much. Really hoping things improve in the next few days, sutures come out in 5 more days. Gently swishing with salt and Rx rinse faithfully and taking penicillin just to be safe.

Wow, I just had (today that is) my entire right side (upper and lower) gum graft done. Aside from the freezing, it was pretty painless. I did however, not have tissue removed from my palate, it was donor tissue as my graft sites were to big to use my own tissue. Maybe this is why I really don't have much pain. The freezing is all out now and aside from some very mild jaw pain (maybe from my mouth being open for a couple of hours), I feel the procedure was a success. Can't wait to actualy see the sites after the bandages are removed in a week. I have to have my left side done as well and would not even hesitate to have it done.

Can I ask How much money out of pocket does this cost after dental insurance?

Hey I am getting my entire right side done this Wednesday. Any suggestions?

I am also getting left side done as well Keri

Your story ... the way you told it... made me laugh. Thanks! And I thought I had it bad, sitting here with ice 3 days later with a swollen and bruised cheek and chin. But nothing bad compared to what you went through.

I just got mine last Friday and everything went amazing! At first I was terrified for my life because my very first dental experience (getting fillings) I had a seizure and went into respitory arrest. Not exactly the best way for your very first fillings/dental work.( it was because they overdosed me on nitrous oxide and before they sat me up they didnt give me 100% oxygen. long story) Anyway they gave me half a dose of triazolam an hour before the gum graft and it didn't even phase me. The periodontist tried to minimize the amount of anesthesia I received because there is also a possible chance I'm sensitive to it. He didn't want to give me a full dose so I was extremely nervous and my blood pressure was high. He talked to me and through out the procedure I was more calm. The procedure was a breeze for me and the most painful part was when they jabbed the needle in my palette. But it wasn't painful like yours. People just have different pain tolerance. Plus he put a strong numbing gel that works amazingly. After the procedure I was just a little sore but that's about it. I'm sorry you had such a terrible experience :(.

I have had the same procedure done and it was no big deal. Maybe things have improved since your experience.

I also had very little pain and no pain meds were needed. I strongly advise searching for a good doctor and asking around before having this procedure. It does sound scary at first, but really was not that bad.

Wow, I've had to have gum grafting when I was 15, after braces. This the graft was taken from my pallet. I had to have a 2nd one done when I was 35. At this time, I had an artificial material used called (alloderm) I think that is what it is called. I was not planning to use this material, but I started bleeding profusely during the procedure and the doctor could not take my own tissue from my pallet. I went for my follow-up and the it did not take. So I had to have it done again. The second time took. The good thing about the graft I had when I was 35, is that I had very little pain, but had donor tissue in my mouth. Today, it looks good. I have another area that looks like it's going to need a graph. So I guess I will get that graft when I'm 40...

You must have had the same periodontist that I had...about 20 years ago! My 9 yr old adopted son went to the dentist today and we were told that he needs a gum transplant for a front tooth which came in in the wrong place. I absolutely will NOT allow my child to undergo this horribly painful procedure, and will keep the appointment with the periodontist ONLY to discuss OTHER OPTIONS....like an implant.

Like the author, my experience with gum transplant was far more excrutiating than the back surgery which I had a few years ago. The periodontist SCREAMED at me and called me names because I had the audacity to pass out from the pain and he had to wait for me to regain consciousness! Also, like you, the tissue graft was hideous and never did heal properly. I'm glad to hear that some of you didn't have quite as horrible experience...but honestly, I'm not going to RISK forcing my child to endure this torture.

Maybe 20 years ago it was torture but I just had one done and it was fine and everyone else on here said there's were fine. Mine hurts minimally and the worst part is I can't have pizza. Just make sure it's a reputable doctor and your child will be fine.

Hmmm...seems a bit dramatic to be honest. I just had the entire right side of my mouth done (top and bottoms grafts for all teeth). It was uncomfortable as I was getting 40 shots for the local anesthetic and some tears came out of my eyes, but aside from that it was fine. My mouth is a bit sore now, but that is what the ice, ibuprofen, and pain meds are for. Compared to the other 5 surgeries I have had this was a piece of cake. Haha. I feel bad for the author of the story above as he is either a huge baby, or had the worst periodontist on the planet.

I had this procedure done 14 days ago. It does not hurt at the time as you are so numb and if you can feel anything then tell the nurse who will numb you more.<br />
I am now on day 14 and still in pain, not an Ouch pain but everytime i eat or drink its like a sting. This is uncomfortable and i am taking painkillers every 6 hours gbut no pain no gain right? Either this or my teeth fall out......<br />
The first few days i was swollen, head throbbed and i could barley eat soup. You should maybe take a couple of days off work, your not eating much and your energy is low so this makes sense but the pain can all be controlled with drugs. At times it has got me down as i just want to eat a huge baguette or pizza but i know in another week i will be back to my old self and have a great smile.<br />
It is well worth it

I had calcium deposits on my gum for more than a year. So today went to dentist, he scaled the teeth and also removed the gum around the lower front teeth. My question is would the gum grow back or do I need to do a gum graft?<br />
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<br />
Thank you.

This story utterly freaked me out...so much so that I almost didn't go get my graft done yesterday. Let me tell you, things must have changed so much since this story was published, or the author had a terrible doctor. The worst part of the entire procedure was the novicaine shots, but even they were bearable. And this huge "elephant needle" doesn't exist. They used the same size needle for everything, then used a different needle to "double numb" me about 20 minutes later once the first round of numbness set in. I felt pressure throughout the surgery and unfortunately, because I read this, I knew exactly what was going on, but had I not, it would not have been scary at all.<br />
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I took my pain meds yesterday and had a shrimp dinner last night. Today, I have minimal pain and am able to eat normally on the right side of my mouth (the left was where the graft was done). The putty is still in place, but when it falls out I know that everything underneath it will be fine. I am not bruised yet, and may be tomorrow morning, but I can handle it if that is my only real symptom. Not being able to brush the left side of my mouth is nasty, but it is understandable.<br />
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PLEASE do not be scared to get this done. I am the biggest blood, needle, and anything surgery-related wimp in the world and this was super manageable. I could have gone back to work on day 2 easily My tolerance for pain is terrible as well. So please don't worry about it. If you need it done, do not hesitate!

I know that this was posted a while back, but I just wanted to say thank you for your positivity!

Interesting reading this, I have just had this down on 3 front teeth near my canines at the top, the op was nearly two hours and my face after 3 days is still swollen, I look hideous and cannot go to work which i need to do after spending so much money! whats worse the soreness and pain in my mouth is relentless, all pain killers are not working, I will never go through this again in a hurray, I have so many engagements to go to this month and cannot go out side as i look hideous. Help!