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Utah dentist offers breakthrough procedure to treat receding gums

MIDVALE — Dentists now have a new revolutionary way to correct gum recession with no cutting or stitches, and virtually no downtime.

It’s called the Chao Pinhole Surgical Technique or Pinhole Gum Rejuvenation, and it could be used in 95 percent of the cases that typically would use painful tissue grafting.

For years, dentists have treated receding gums by removing tissue from the roof of the mouth, about the size of a quarter, and then grafting it in the void where the gum has moved away from the tooth. A patient would be on a very restrictive diet for several weeks to heal.

A patient would have to wait six months or more before a second procedure could be done because it would take that long for connective tissue to grow back in. Dentist Ryan McNeil, at Midvale Family Dental, said it’s a complex procedure and painful for the patient.

“It’s uncomfortable to eat and talk and chew, and the tongue rubs on the wound for a few weeks while it’s healing,” McNeil said.

Melissa, who preferred not to use her last name, remembers well what tissue grafting is like.

“It’s nothing I’ve ever experienced before and don’t want to experience again,” she said. “There’s a lot of nerve endings in the top of your mouth and your tongue doesn’t want to stay away from the roof of your mouth when you’ve got a hole in it. It’s a horrible experience.”

But that was before.

McNeil is now the first Utah dentist trained by John Chao who invented the Pinhole Surgical Technique. This time when Melissa needed to be treated for gum recession, he offered her a whole new experience.

Newly developed instruments are inserted through a pinhole incision high above the tooth. The dentist then loosens the gum, pulling it down to cover the exposed area. Collagen is added to stabilize the gum over the teeth while it heals. No grafting is needed, and there are no stitches because the pinhole incision heals on its own.

“Most of these we are doing with just local anesthetic and patients do just fine,” McNeil said.

Many patients need only Novocain during the procedure and minor pain medications after. Compared to grafting, Melissa said the difference is like night and day.

“Under the old procedure, it was a good three weeks, four weeks, before I even felt well enough to do a whole lot of anything,” she said.

Not only do patients typically suffer less pain with this new procedure, but the dentist can treat more teeth at once. In the time it takes to do one tooth with the grafting method, a dentist can perform the new procedure on four to five teeth, McNeil said.

The cost to do the procedure is comparable to the traditional method, McNeil said, though treating several teeth at once could save some patients money because they wouldn’t pay for repeat dentist visits.

Chao spent 10 years developing the new technique and the instruments required to reposition the gums. He said the rate of success with this procedure is comparable to the highest rate attributed to the traditional method.

In some cases, receding gums may be related to genetics. The condition can also be triggered by over brushing or hard brushing of teeth or teeth grinding. Fifty percent of adults will have some degree of gum recession over their lifetime. Many may not know it because it happens gradually and is often painless, McNeil said.

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc