When we think about dental procedures, we probably think about how things like having a cavity filled, having a tooth extracted, or other common dental procedures. We might even think about things like getting a dental implant, having a bridge installed, or getting dentures.
One thing we probably don’t think about is getting a bone graft! This is because bone grafts are one of the hidden aspects of dentistry that is ultimately necessary to support some of the other procedures. They might seem scary, but they don’t need to.
In this article, we’ll well try to demystify the bone graft procedure, explain some different kinds of bone grafts, and show you why they might be necessary and helpful to your dental health.
Small, Medium, And Large Dental Bone Grafts
The first thing you need to know about bone grafts is that your jawbone is ultimately what holds your teeth in place. This probably sounds obvious, but remember that most dental implant procedures require a strong and dense jawbone to work. However, not everyone has a strong and dense jawbone. There are many things which could compromise the integrity of your jawbone, and require it to be reinforced before you can receive one of these dental implants.
When you lose a tooth for any reason, the jawbone underneath that tooth no longer has a job to do, and has a tendency too slowly eroded away until it creates a type of dull divot-like opening in the jawbone where the tooth once was. Eventually, you’ll probably want to do something about that missing tooth, and go to your dentist to find out what your options are. The dentist will probably tell you about dental implants and dental bridges. It is at that point that you’ll find out that you need a strong jawbone in order to support those treatments, and realize that your jawbone has eroded.
Fixing this problem is where dental bone grafts come in.
Small Bone Grafts
If your tooth has been lost recently, rather than a long time ago, there are some ways to make sure that your jawbone doesn’t erode too much. The ideal situation is to get a small bone graft right away rather than needing a more extensive bone graft later on.
In a small bone graft procedure sterile human bone granules which of bending mineralized and look similar to sand are carefully packed into the tooth socket right away after the tooth has been removed. These little bits of bone are then covered with a collagen membrane and the socket is then stitched up. Believe it or not, this process is actually quite straightforward and does not add to your recovery time. In the coming weeks, your own bone will grow to fill the area and preserve the jawbone height, allowing the area to be fully restored.
If you replace the missing tooth with the dental implant, you can expect not to lose any height of the jawbone at all. This affect will remain permanently. However, if the bridge is used instead of an implant, the bone will actually erode slightly over time, so keep that in mind.
Medium Bone Grafts
If several years have gone by since you lost your tooth or it was removed, you have probably experienced some level of erosion of the jawbone, which may need to be treated with a medium bone graft.
The procedure for a medium bone graft is very similar to that of small bone graft, in that the area is opened up with an incision, and small demineralized granules are inserted, before the area stitch backup. However because it is a medium bone graft, sometimes more bone is required and your dentist will take some bone material from the area near one of your wisdom teeth to fill the area that is being grafted. As with small bone grafts, your body will heal the area and integrate the bone with the rest of the jawbone, forming a new level surface.
Because a medium bone graft is more extensive than a small bone graft, it will require a longer time to heal, so you will probably have to wait several months before any additional procedures can be performed.
Medium bone grafts are sufficient to fill the areas below one or even several missing teeth. They can be used to accomplish a successful restoration of a fairly eroded jawbone.
Large Bone Grafts
If you have been missing several teeth for a very long time, you may have experienced extensive bone loss which will make it impossible to restore your teeth without a large bone graft. This is a common situation that sometimes happens to people to wear dentures for a long period of time.
This can actually result in the dentures themselves no longer fitting properly, and the jawbone becoming as thin as a pencil in certain cases. This prevents the person from wearing their dentures, and also prevents them from getting dental implants, leaving them in a rather sticky situation with no teeth and no way to replace them. In this situation a large dental implant is really the only restorative option and is necessary in order to restore quality of life, which will have degraded significantly due to the lack of teeth and weakened jawbone structure.
As with small and medium bone grafts, large bone grafts begin with insertion of demineralized bone material through an incision into the tooth socket area. However in the case of a large bone graft, this alone will be insufficient to treat the issue, and more extensive bone grafts will be needed.
In order to provide additional bone material, the dental surgeon may extract bone material from other parts of the body, such as the femur or tibia (leg bones). Because these pieces are much larger than the small granules used with other types of bone grafts, screws or plates may be needed in order to secure the new bone grafts in place. In very severe cases with the upper jaw bone area, it may be necessary to actually raise the floor of the sinus cavity with a bone graft, to allow material for the screws to be secured. This is the most extensive dental bone graft procedure.
The Bottom Line About Bone Grafts
Bone grafting is a procedure which makes the full restoration of your teeth possible, even in cases where your jawbone could not otherwise support it. For this reason, it is actually very useful procedure which can really change your life and save your smile.
Of course, none of us want to have a bone graft procedure done, but if it becomes necessary, it can really be the best option and make a full tooth restoration possible, leading to better self-esteem, more comfortable eating and talking, and a higher standard of living.
Have you or a loved one had a successful bone graft procedure? Let us know the comments below!