ALHAMBRA, Calif. - Are you long in the tooth or do you have sensitive teeth? You may have receding gums. In fact, 50 percent of people have some form of gum recession. A painful surgery was the only answer, until now. Out of necessity, one dentist is trying to ease the pain for his patients and millions of others.
No surgery, no sutures, all smiles, that's what Dr. John Chao wanted for his patients.
"I just didn't see why dentistry has to have a procedure that hurts so much," said Chao, a dentist at Alhambra Dental in California.
Conventional gum grafting is painful. Dentists cut and remove tissue from the roof of the mouth and then graft it onto the receded gum. Now, Chao has developed a new, almost painless procedure called the pinhole surgical technique.
"There's some recession of the gums going up this way," Chao said.
Maria Becerra had the procedure.
"There's some sensitivity," Becerra said.
Chao doesn't cut but uses a needle to make a small hole above the diseased area.
"We loosen up the gum and drape it down to where it's supposed to be. Then we reinforce it with some collagen," Chao explained.
The pinhole procedure uses a needle, can correct 10 to 14 teeth at once, takes about 20 minutes for up to three teeth, and recovery is less than a day. Traditional surgery requires two incisions, only corrects one to two teeth at a time, takes almost two hours, and there's a three-week recovery.
Joyce Ann Flint was one of the first to have it done three years ago.
"It was a miracle, an absolute miracle," Flint said.
It is expected to be a permanent procedure and should not need to be repeated. As for risks, in the past six years, Chao said he has not seen any higher risk with the pinhole technique than with traditional methods. The cost is comparable to traditional methods and can range from $500 to $1,800. Right now, Chao is the only dentist doing this procedure, but he is beginning to train dentists around the world.
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