Bone loss to the jaw is one of the most serious consequences of missing teeth. It begins as soon as a tooth is lost, when the natural stimulation for bone growth created by the force of teeth chewing can no longer occur. The result can be dramatic—the width of the bone can reduce by 25% in the first year alone after tooth loss.
A bone graft is a surgical procedure used to fix problems with bones or joints. Bone grafting, or transplanting of bone tissue, is beneficial in fixing bones that are damaged from trauma, or problem joints. It’s also useful for growing bone around an implanted device, such as a total knee replacement. A bone graft may fill a void where bone is absent or help provide structural stability.
A dental implant basically has two pieces: a metal cylinder that is placed into the jaw bone and functions like the root of the tooth, and an abutment that screws into the first piece. A crown is then placed on the abutment, creating the appearance of a tooth. In a bone graft procedure, the surgeon will take a section of bone from another area of your body, or – as is most often the case now – use a special bone grafting material, and graft it onto your jaw bone. You will then have to wait, most likely several months, while the graft creates enough new, strong bone to make sure that the implant will be stable and secure.
It is not unusual for the patient to present for a consultation at the oral surgeon’s office and be informed at some point in the discussion that he or she may require a “bone graft” in order to maximize the outcome of dental implant surgery. While this sounds pretty scary at first, the truth is that bone grafting in the oral cavity today is a routine, predictable and painless procedure.
During the body’s normal maintenance cycle, specialized cells in the blood continually enter your tissue to remove damaged cells and replace them with new, healthy cells. Grafting procedures place a framework of material in the areas of missing bone into which these cells can enter and start the rebuilding process. Over time your cells will remodel the graft material into your own functioning bone.