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Smiling Gums

By: George Malkemus
May 5, 2017

Have you ever seen a person smile and you see more gums than teeth?  That condition is called a gummy smile. Although a gummy smile is considered a normal variation of human anatomy, many people with gummy smiles are very self-conscious when smiling.  Fortunately, these smiles can be corrected with simple dental procedures.

Sometimes excessive gum tissue partially hides the upper teeth.  Removal of the excessive tissue can have a dramatic positive effect on the smile.  Other times the gum heights vary between the upper front teeth, causing an uneven looking smile.  A pleasant, balanced smile needs an even contour line of the gums as well as a smooth even line of the front teeth edges. Gum recontouring can give a beautiful smile line.  Often times there are teeth issues, such as crowding or discolorations, that accompany a gummy smile. A smile design will address both teeth and gum issues. Solutions can involve whitening, veneers or braces, along with gum changes. 

In the perfect smile, the upper lip sits just above the top of the teeth. But for people with a high lip line, too much of their upper gum is revealed, creating the gummy smile.  The unflattering appearance of highly visible gums causes many people with a high lip line to avoid smiling or place their hand over their mouth when they smile, laugh or train their facial muscles to limit their smile.  Being self-conscious about their smile, it can affect their personality and self-confidence. What a wonderful change for them after a smile makeover.


Case Study 

A few years ago, I treated a successful, 32-year-old businesswomen to whom smiling did not come naturally. She had a gummy smile. In grade school, she was the victim of cruel taunting from her classmates. She tried to ignore their remarks about her “short” teeth, but their words deeply hurt her.  By the time she began middle school, she was so withdrawn and shy that her teacher suggested that she talk to the school counselor.  Eventually, she learned to smile without parting her lips. Whenever she laughed, she would always cover her mouth to avoid embarrassment.   

But today, that is all behind her.  After a smile design and gum sculpturing, she has a full radiant natural smile that she always wanted.  No more excess gum tissue covering the tops of her teeth.   She feels her new self-confidence smile has made her a greater success in life and work. She confided in me that it was the best thing that she has ever done for her business. Establishing immediate rapport with a winning smile is so vital in building relationships. 

Studies have shown that 93% of communication between people is non-verbal.  Only 7% of what people react to and hear is the content of what is being said. What is most important is the person’s body language and facial expression.  A beautiful positive smile helps make people listen to you and respond in a positive way.     

What can be done?

A gummy smile can be corrected in various ways depending on the severity.  If only small amounts of gum tissue need adjusting, then a soft tissue laser can be used to contour the gums to a pleasant smile line level.  If greater levels of gum tissue need contouring, then surgical sculpting is needed.  In many cases the gummy smile can be corrected with orthodontics.   In all cases, a smile design work up is necessary to determine the best treatment. 

A soft tissue laser is a new technology that is used to sculpt gums and soft tissue around the teeth. Light emitted from the laser removes the excess gum tissue, cutting at the cellular level, only the width of the wavelength of light.  The cut is so fine that there is no bleeding and often no discomfort. Such fine control with the laser allows predictable shaping of the gums. Using a soft tissue laser is a quick procedure that also results in fast excellent healing. 

In more severe gummy cases,  bone recontouring is necessary to allow the ideal shaping of the gums.  A gum specialist, called a periodontist, usually does this procedure after a smile design by the cosmetic dentist. 

Though the gums are often sculpted for cosmetic reasons, the procedure is important for health reasons as well. Perhaps the tooth has a large decayed area below the gum.  The laser can be used to contour the gum to allow access for the decay removal and shaping of the gums to allow better cleaning when brushing and flossing. This procedure is called a gingivectomy, the Latin word for gum removal. 

  If a tooth brakes off at or near the gum line, there won’t be enough tooth remaining for a crown to grip firmly. The crown needs to be extended below the gum.  The gum tissue can be decreased in a procedure called “crown lengthening” or “tooth lengthening.” Once the gum tissue is removed and the gum heals, a permanent crown can be fabricated. 

Dentistry has come a long way.   When I started my practice in Rohnert Park in 1985, Silver/Mercury fillings were the norm. [I have not done one since the early 90s.]  Cosmetic dentistry was for movie stars and they had to have all their teeth ground down for crowns.  Now with modern technology, with the likes of the laser, all things are possible from smile design makeovers with veneers to implants.  And with sedation dentistry, it can even all be done while comfortably asleep.  A gummy smile is one of many aspects of dentistry that was not even talked about 25 years ago and can now be easily corrected. 

Frown and you frown alone, but smile and the whole world smiles with you.    




 George Malkemus has had a Family and Cosmetic Dental Practice in Rohnert Park at 2 Padre Parkway, Suite 200.  Call 585-8595, or email info@  Visit Dr. Malkemus’  Web site at