SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) --Patients with a common dental condition can often suffer both pain and cosmetic issues on top of that. A delicate technique can help solve the problem without surgery.
Heather Ryan credits her beautiful smile to adult braces she wore in her late 20s. But several years later she began to notice a different issue. Her gums had begun receding.
"I first felt it, didn't notice it right away, visually, but just could feel sensitivity to cold," Ryan said.
Eventually, she turned to her in-law, San Francisco dentist Alexander Chukreeff. He says the traditional surgical treatment involved grafting tissue from other parts of the mouth to move the gum line. Instead, he recommended an alternative called the pinhole technique.
"So we're essentially propping the gum tissues up over the roots, and it doesn't require any cutting or stitching," Chukreeff said.
Instead, Chukreeff makes a tiny pinhole in the gum to reach the soft tissue beneath, which is not connected to the facial bones. Over the course an hour, he moves the tissue, using collagen implants to hold it into place.
"And we work our way underneath that and we tuck the collagen underneath the gums covering the roots of the teeth," explains Dr. Chukreeff.
He says the goal is to cover and protect the exposed roots, which can cause the kind of pain that Ryan experiences when she eats certain foods or drinks something cold. Beyond pain relief, he says the technique can also improve the look of the gum line with minimal side effects beyond temporary swelling.
"And the big cosmetic advantage you will see is the roots now being covered," he says.
Ryan is simply hoping to be able to enjoy the foods she loves with her husband and family, without the discomfort.
"Food, wine, chardonnay, all those things," Ryan said.
Written and produced by Tim Didion.