Bone loss following the loss of a tooth is inevitable. When you lose a tooth, the bone in your jaw no longer receives pressure signals when you bite down. Without these signals, the bone doesn’t get stimulated to keep regenerating & the body starts to resorb the bone material.
After tooth loss, this process starts immediately & progresses quite quickly: a year after tooth loss, a patient may have already lost up to a quarter of their bone width where the tooth used to be. The rapidity of bone loss is one the reasons it is important to have a plan to replace a lost tooth as soon as possible after loss.
Thankfully, dental implants can help prevent further bone loss because the titanium root structure reintroduces biting forces to your jawbone. However, if a good amount of bone loss has already taken place, bone grafting may be necessary in order to build up enough of a foundation for the implant to take hold.
What Is Bone Grafting?
Bone grafting is a surgical procedure that replaces missing bone that has been lost following the removal or loss of an adult tooth. Bone grafting usually takes place as a preliminary treatment before tooth replacement using dental implants.
While bone grafting is a fairly involved kind of oral surgery, it’s a procedure that makes it possible for more patients with a variety of dental situations to permanently replace their teeth. Not so long ago, patients who had lost significant amounts of bone due to missing teeth were told they weren’t eligible for dental implants. These patients were limited to less ideal or naturalistic solutions, such as bridges or dentures. Thankfully, dental technology & techniques have advanced so that bone grafting is a commonplace procedure that opens up a whole new world of beautiful & functional smiles to patients in need.
The details of a bone grafting procedure depend on the patient’s individual situation. Factors that determine the approach we take include where the bone grafting is taking place & how much time has passed since the missing tooth was removed. Bone grafting can occur immediately after a tooth extraction if necessary.
Think of a graft as a patch that fills in for missing material. In dental bone grafting, the materials that can be used are the patient’s own bone, donor bone from another person, animal bone, or a synthetic material. In all cases, the grafting material itself is not intended to fill the gap permanently, but to provide a foundation that encourages the patient’s own bone to re-grow into that space.
At the start of the procedure, an incision is made in the gums to expose the bone. Then, the bone surface is prepared & the transplanted material is placed. If your own bone is used, it is usually taken from another part of the jawbone, often near the back in the region of wisdom teeth. Finally, the bone graft is protected by the placement of a collagen membrane & the gums are closed back up with small sutures.
Discomfort after bone grafting is usually reported as minimal by patients. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as ibuprofen (Advil®), are usually all that’s needed to control pain during the recovery period. Depending on your health situation, we may also prescribe antibiotics as a precaution against infection. After the bone grafting procedure, we will monitor the healing & bone regeneration process. Several months may pass before the regeneration is sufficient to support an implant.