TAMPA (FOX 13) - Grinding or brushing your teeth too hard can cause an unwanted side effect: receding gums.
It's an issue that can lead to much bigger problems like extreme sensitivity, tooth decay, and even tooth loss. And the remedies - until now- have been time-consuming and painful.
Jill Frederick spoke with FOX 13 about her receding gums. She dreaded getting her teeth cleaned.
"It was horrific, it was so painful," Frederick said. "I had extremely bad sensitivity on both sides of my molars, and every time I went to my dentist for a cleaning it was dread."
For another dental patient, Larissa Jones, hot and cold foods made her cringe.
"Ice in the water, or really cold ice cream, it was just very sensitive," Jones explained.
And for Barbara Nash, skipping regular cleanings took its toll. She ultimately developed periodontitis, and had to have laser surgery last year.
"I admit I hadn't been getting good dental care," the retired school teacher said.
Their stories differ, but these women all have one thing in common: receding gums.
"When people get sensitive teeth, they're losing bone as they have gum recession, and eventually they can lose their teeth," Clearwater Periodontist Dr. Bruce Crawford explained.
Three years ago, he started offering a minimally invasive procedure called the Chao Pinhole Surgical Technique.
"There aren't a lot of things where we can bring it back. You're 75-years-old; we can bring your tissue back like it was when you were 16," Dr. Crawford explained.
It's a change you can see immediately after the procedure is done. When gum lines recede, a dark area appears along the gum line. That darkened portion of the tooth is the root. Because there is no protective enamel coating, it's more susceptible to cavities, erosion and sensitivity.
Traditional procedures transfer tissue from the roof of the mouth, or a cadaver, to exposed areas similar to a skin graft.
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The pinhole surgery instead drops the gum line back down to its original place by creating pinholes in the gum. Dentists use the openings to insert tiny, specially designed tools to cut the connections beneath the gum.
"By the time we're finished, we're able to move it up and down," Crawford explained.
To help hold the gums in their new location, collagen strips are inserted through pinholes. Dr. Crawford showed us the remnants of the strips beneath Barbara's gums. Her procedure was two weeks ago.
"You see a little bit of the irregularity right here. That's where we place the material it will resorb," he said.
Frederick's first procedure was three months ago, and she is pleased with her results.
"There was no pain and I was just amazed about it," she said. "When I take my tongue and touch my teeth in the back, I feel teeth rather than the ridge of a tooth where the gum had receded."
She had the second procedure a month ago and has not yet had her teeth cleaned.
Larissa Jones only had one side of her mouth done so far, but even so, she's again visiting her favorite ice cream shop.
"It was great - it was great! Probably too good. I've been back to the place a little bit more often," she laughed.
Now that the root of her tooth is no longer exposed, she's also happy with her appearance, but said her long-term goal is to protect her teeth.
"I don't consider it as cosmetic. I consider it more as preservation; preserving my teeth, preserving my gums, having them hopefully for a really long time," she said.
Dr. Crawford says the procedure typically costs $1,800, or more, depending on how much tissue must be released. Insurance may cover a portion of the expense and financing is available.