The jaw bone supports the teeth. When the teeth, gums and jaw are healthy, the tooth will be firmly in the bone. But infections or missing teeth can cause the jaw bone to recede or wear away.
For example, in its advanced stages, periodontal (aka gum) disease can cause significant damage to the bone so it can no longer support the teeth. In other cases, tooth loss, whether due to decay or an accident, can cause the bone to erode.
A bone graft is a surgical procedure that restores missing bone tissue in the jaw. It can also augment existing bone as needed. Learn more about the bone grafting process and who it's best for.
Who Needs a Bone Graft?
People who have experienced bone loss in the jaw or who are at risk of bone loss usually benefit from a bone graft. A dentist might recommend bone grafting to a patient who has advanced periodontal disease. The graft replaces bone tissue lost to infection. It can help to hold the teeth in place and prevent tooth loss due to periodontitis.
In some cases, a person who's already experienced tooth loss might be a good candidate for a bone graft. The surgery can help to rebuild the jaw before a person receives dentures. If someone wants to get a dental implant, they might need bone grafting first to ensure that there's an adequate amount of tissue for the implant.
What's Used in a Bone Graft?
The material used to replace the bone during a grafting procedure can come from a variety of sources. The material that's right for a patient depends on a variety of factors. If you're considering a bone graft, your dentist will review the options with you and let you know which one they think is best.
Materials commonly used in a bone graft include:
- Autografts come from bone tissue that is sourced from your body. The chin, hip or shin are typically used as donor sites.
- Allografts come from another human, such as the bone of a cadaver. The donated bone tissue is treated to remove any diseases and to neutralize your immune system's reaction.
- Xenografts come from animal bones, usually cows.
- Alloplasts are synthetic grafts, made from hydroxyapatite or Bioglass.
Autografts are typically the preferred material, but there might be numerous reasons why a donor graft or synthetic graft is the better option for a patient.
What Happens During a Bone Grafting Procedure?
The first step during bone grafting is for the dentist to numb the area being treated. Usually, only a local anesthetic is used but sedation or general anesthesia might be available.
If the dentist is using bone from your own body, the next step is to harvest the bone from the donor site. They might also extract a tooth if needed. Then, they'll clean the area before attaching the donor bone to the existing bone. If the dentist didn't extract a tooth from the area, they'll need to make an incision in the gums before attaching the donor bone.
Once the bone is in place, the dentist finishes the surgery by closing the incision.
Often, it takes a few months to fully heal from a bone graft. If you're going to get a dental implant, you'll want to follow up with your dentist after several months.
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