What constitutes a gummy smile? According to one poll, patients said that when about 3 mm of gingiva showed when smiling, then it was a gummy smile. However, orthodontists in the poll said as little as 2 mm was gummy, while general practitioners said 4 mm was the threshold.
While no one can seem to agree, the point is that if you are unhappy with your smile and feel too much gum is showing, you should seek out a dentist for help. You may not need to undergo a major surgery to fix this issue either!
Why Surgery Isn't Always the Answer
Oral surgery can fix a whole host of dental and skeletal dysfunctions. If you have a gummy smile along with other issues, like TMJ dysfunction, an asymmetrical jawline that affects chewing, muscle strain when you close your lips, etc. then surgery could be the answer to all of these problems.
If your bite is otherwise sound and your only problem is a gummy smile, then surgery should probably not be your first option. After all, many insurance policies will not cover this surgery if it's solely a cosmetic concern. Costhelper says that without insurance, jaw surgery can cost between $20,000 and $40,000! This price also doesn't include the orthodontic work that could be required before and after.
Besides the high cost, surgery always comes with some risk of complication. You may be wired shut after surgery, or require bone grafts, or need titanium plates to support bone. While many people make full recoveries, some people have permanent numbness in their chin or lips after surgery.
Thankfully, if you just want to change your gummy smile, there is a less invasive way: gum contouring.
What is Gum Contouring?
Gum contouring, or a gingivectomy, is a procedure that can be done at your dentist's office in one appointment. During this procedure, your dentist will excise and lift gum off the enamel to create a more even ratio of gums and teeth when smiling. First, your gum tissue will be numbed with an anesthetic, and then your dentist will use a scalpel and/or laser to remove the gum tissue.
While many people are good candidates for gum contouring, you will need to clean your teeth and gums thoroughly to prepare for it. If you have infected gums or gum disease, you'll want to look into scaling and root planing (SRP) first so that you can go into the procedure with healthy tissue.
What are the Benefits of Gum Contouring?
Because the lasers that dentists use for the procedure seal blood vessels, you shouldn't have excessive bleeding or need stitches. While you will definitely be sore for a day or two, you won't need heavy medications like a major surgery would require. OTC painkillers should be sufficient. Also, since you won't be under general anesthesia, you can go home instead of requiring a stay at the hospital.
While this procedure typically isn't covered by insurance, it is certainly more affordable than non-covered jaw surgeries; Costhelper says that it can cost between $50 and $350 for gum around a single tooth.
Although gum contouring is mainly a cosmetic procedure, there are some functional benefits if you have other dental issues. For instance, some drugs (e.g. anti-seizure and high blood pressure medications) can cause an excess of gum tissue, which in turn causes inflammation and makes it harder to clean teeth. Gum contouring allows you to remove this problem tissue so that you can still take your medications.
If you used to suffer from gingivitis or gum disease, the pockets around your teeth may have enlarged and increased the appearance of a gummy smile. By having gum contouring done, you will be able to shrink these gum pockets somewhat.
As you can see, there are many great benefits of gum contouring over major surgery. Talk with your dentist or an oral surgeon to see which route would be best to fix your gummy smile.