• Local Dentist Fighting Tooth and Nail for Healthier Gums


    Dr. John Chao with patient Maria

    by Winston Chua

    Dr. John Chao is making dental visits a lot less painful for patients locally and beyond. That’s because the Alhambra doctor and longtime USC instructor in pain control/management has developed what is known as the Pinhole Surgical Technique, which helps correct gum recession less invasively and more painlessly. The breakthrough Technique requires no cutting or stitching.

    “I was so dissatisfied with traditional methods because they caused me so much pain,” said Chao, inside his expansive Alhambra office, where he has been perfecting smiles since 1983. “The healing process was taking so long and it was disturbing to me. I soon realized there must be an easier method to this.”

    Traditional treatment typically requires multiple incisions into the roof of a patient’s mouth and above or below the tooth that is increasingly exposed. The sub-epithelial connective tissue from the roof of the mouth is grafted near the gums.

    At most, one or two teeth are dealt with at a time and the healing process can take several weeks. In other cases, gum processed from cadaver tissue is surgically placed inside a dental patient’s mouth.

    The Pinhole technique can be used to treat one’s full mouth using a 1.5 millimeter incision above or below the collar of the tooth  – the collar is the area closer to the root of the tooth. Collagen strips are placed  into this flexible portion of the gums, loosening the area after it is draped to cover a recessed area. Up to six teeth at a time can be treated per incision. Four teeth can be treated in 30 minutes and the recovery time is as little as 24 hours.

    “My aim now is to teach this technique to as many dentists as possible,” he added. “I want to make this available to everybody in Pasadena, Alhambra, California and different states so patients can receive better care.”

    Chao is well on his way to achieving his goal. Soon after his Pinhole technique was broadcast on ABC7 earlier this year, his office received 15 calls from patients nationwide asking to be treated in just a 30-minute span. And the calls have continued to roll in.

    Gum recession may be caused by a number of factors, including over-brushing, gum disease, an incorrect bite (misalignment of the jaw) and clenching or grinding of the teeth.

    Chao’s work was documented in 2012 in the International Journal of Periodontics and Restorative Dentistry, a publication which published the positive results of a 33-month study of 43 patients and 120 teeth. The research showed that Chao’s long-term success rates are comparable to traditional epithelial grafting methods.

    So why bother with fixing the gums? Can’t you just get by with just brushing?

    Chao told The Tribune that when gum recedes the root of a tooth is exposed. The more gum one loses, the poorer the chance of keeping the tooth. Teeth with exposed gums are also increasingly sensitive to more extreme temperatures.

    In 2006, Chao – who immigrated to the United States from China when he was 14 – applied for and received a patent for his innovative dental approach.

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