Gum biopsy

Alternative names
Biopsy - gingiva (gums)

A gum biopsy is a diagnostic procedure in which a small piece of gingival (gum) tissue is removed for examination.

How the test is performed
A topical anesthetic may (or may not) be sprayed in the mouth on the suspicious area of gum tissue (in some cases injection of local anesthesia may be required). A small piece of the gum tissue is removed using a biopsy forcep and sent to the laboratory for examination.

How to prepare for the test
There is no special preparation, although fasting for a few hours before the test may be advisable.

Infants and children:
The physical and psychological preparation you can provide for this or any test or procedure depends on your child’s age, interests, previous experiences, and level of trust. For specific information regarding how you can prepare your child, see the following topics as they correspond to your child’s age:

  • infant test or procedure preparation (birth to 1 year)  
  • toddler test or procedure preparation (1 to 3 years)  
  • preschooler test or procedure preparation (3 to 6 years)  
  • schoolage test or procedure preparation (6 to 12 years)  
  • adolescent test or procedure preparation (12 to 18 years)

How the test will feel
The topical anesthetic, if used, should numb the area during the procedure, although some tugging or pressure may be felt. After the anesthetic wears off, the area may be tender for a few days.

Why the test is performed

This test is performed when examination of the mouth reveals abnormal-appearing gum tissue, particularly if amyloid or other abnormality is suspected.

Normal Values
This test is only performed when there is an abnormality.

What abnormal results mean

  • thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP)  
  • amyloid  
  • oral cancer (for example, squamous cell carcinoma)  
  • noncancerous mouth sores (the specific cause can be determined in many cases)

What the risks are

  • bleeding from the biopsy site  
  • infection of the gums  
  • soreness

Special considerations

Avoid brushing the biopsy area for 1 week.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 5, 2012
by David A. Scott, M.D.

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