When we picture a bright, appealing smile, we focus most of our attention on the teeth. But there’s another component of the smile that’s just as important: the healthy pink gum tissue that surrounds and sets off those pearly-whites. Sometimes it’s not a tooth problem that makes a smile look less than perfect—it’s the gum tissue. Let’s look a little closer at how your gums affect the appearance of your smile… and what you can do if you aren’t satisfied with what you see.
In most people’s perception, there’s an “ideal” ratio between the width of a tooth’s crown (its visible part) and its length: that ratio is around 78-85%. In addition, we expect to see just 1-2 millimeters of gum showing in the smile. If an excessive amount of crown is showing, the teeth are perceived as “long.” (And because gum recession often occurs as we age, making more of the crown visible, it may make a person appear older, or “long in the tooth.”) On the other hand, if more than 3 or 4 millimeters of gum tissue is revealed in the smile, the effect is perceived as a “gummy smile.”
Of course, there is wide variation in normal human anatomy, as well as in the perception of beauty. But if the appearance of your gums is making you unhappy with your smile, there are a number of ways to deal with the issue—including the option of reshaping gum tissue with periodontal plastic surgery.
For example, if your teeth appear too long—or if the area near the gum line looks more yellow than the rest of the tooth because the darker-colored dentin, normally covered by the gums, is exposed—it may be possible to restore healthy gum tissue via gingival (gum) grafting. Grafts can be done via a variety of techniques: using gum tissue adjacent to the tooth with recession; taking a thin layer of your gum tissue from the roof of your mouth or another site; or with safe, laboratory-processed tissue from another source. The high-tech materials and procedures currently used in periodontal grafting are the outcome of decades of research and development. They offer an effective means of treating gum recession—which can be not only a cosmetic concern, but a potential oral hygiene problem as well.
If the issue is a gummy smile, a periodontal procedure called “crown lengthening” can be an effective treatment in many cases. In this procedure (which may be performed via conventional or laser surgery), excess gum tissue and underlying bone is removed and/or re-shaped to reveal more of the teeth. The end result is more pleasing proportions of teeth and gums.
If you’re unhappy with your smile, ask your dentist or periodontist (gum specialist) whether reshaping your gums could help. He or she will carefully evaluate the condition of your gums and teeth, and your oral health in general. Gum surgery can be an important part of a complete “smile makeover,” which can give you the dazzling smile you’ve always dreamed about.