Do you think of bone as a hard, rigid material that never changes? In fact bone remodels itself all the time: Your body is constantly depositing new bone cells and removing old ones. In the case of the bone that supports your teeth, this process can be helpful or harmful. For example, the jawbone's adaptability allows an orthodontist to move teeth into a better position with braces. But in the case of losing a tooth as an adult, the bone changes that result can have serious consequences.
When teeth are lost, the bone that used to surround them begins to melt away or “resorb.” Tooth-supporting bone can also be lost when you have periodontal (gum) disease. If you lose enough teeth and bone, your facial features will sag, giving you a more aged appearance; it can also complicate treatment to replace your missing teeth. Fortunately, with modern bone grafting-techniques, the bone that has been lost can be built up again. This can benefit both your health and appearance by strengthening your jawbone, allowing more effective tooth replacement, and increasing support to your facial features.
Bone grafting is a minor surgical procedure that is normally done in a dental office. An incision is made in your gum to gain access to the bone beneath it, and then grafting material is added. Most often, the grafting material is processed bone minerals around which your body will actually deposit new bone cells.
The grafting material itself can come from your own body, but very often it is bone from an animal or human donor that has been treated by a laboratory to make it sterile and safe. It can even be a synthetic substance. Grafting material comes in a variety of forms: powder, granules, putty or a gel that can be injected through a syringe. The graft, which is generally covered by a collagen membrane for optimum bone repair, will act as a scaffold onto which your body will build new bone.
Uses for Bone Grafts
Bone grafts are used in dentistry to accomplish the following treatment goals:
- Saving Teeth — When severe periodontal disease causes bone loss, teeth can become loose and at risk of being lost. In order to save them, the bone around them can be regenerated through grafting; this increases bone support and helps keep them in place.
- Tooth Extractions — These days, it is very common to deposit bone grafting material into a tooth socket after a tooth has been removed. That way, should you want to replace your tooth with a dental implant later on, that option will be available.
- Dental Implants — In this optimal tooth-replacement system, a small titanium post embedded in the jawbone is attached to a highly realistic dental crown, permanently replacing the missing tooth. Implants require good bone volume and density to achieve their excellent functionality and high success rates. If you have already experienced bone loss, a graft can help regenerate enough bone to place the implant successfully.
What to Expect
The procedure for placing a bone graft usually requires only local anesthesia, though oral or IV (intravenous) sedatives can also be used to achieve a higher state of relaxation. Since a small incision is made in your gum tissue to gain access to the bone that will receive the graft, you may experience some soreness in the area after the surgery. This can usually be managed by over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication and/or pain relievers, as well as ice therapy after the procedure. Any discomfort should only last a day or two. Then, over the next several months, your body will replace the graft with its own bone, reversing the decline in bone quantity you have experienced.