A therapy that helps regenerate receding gum tissue seems to hold up over the long term — and may offer patients an alternative to more-extensive dental surgery, a small study finds.

One option for treating severe gum disease is surgery to replace tissue lost from around the teeth and their roots. Traditionally, that has meant taking tissue from the roof of the patients' mouth and "grafting" it onto the receding gums.

The surgery is effective, but requires stitches in the roof of mouth and leaves patients in pain afterward.

In the new study, published in the Journal of Periodontology, researchers at Tufts University in Boston looked at the longer-term results of an alternative procedure known as guided tissue regeneration, or GTR.

The study looked at a specific GTR technique, developed at Tufts, that involves drawing blood from the patient to retrieve blood cells known as platelets, which are rich in proteins called growth factors that aid in tissue repair and wound healing.

A membrane made of collagen is soaked in the platelets then sutured over the receding tooth root.

Drs. Terrance J. Griffin and Wai S. Cheung followed six patients who had had the procedure done on a total of 37 teeth. After six months, new tissue was completely covering the roots of two-thirds of the treated teeth. After three years, 57 percent still had complete root coverage.

The long-term results are comparable to what is seen with traditional graft surgery, Griffin told Reuters Health.

"The new treatment reduces pain and discomfort, offers excellent root coverage, and results in increased patient satisfaction with the results," he said. "We now know that it is stable after three years."

The treatment is not yet widely available, according to Griffin, though it is becoming better known.

He noted that receding gums, the condition targeted by this particular treatment, is just one form of gum disease. "The good news is that researchers are making strides in tissue regeneration treatments."

SOURCE: Journal of Periodontology, July 2009.