Most of us assume that regular brushing, flossing, and cleanings are enough to maintain the health of our teeth. However, that’s only true if you are focusing on the surface of your smile. The function of our mouths also depends heavily on having healthy jawbones to support our teeth. If our jawbones are thin or weak, a dental professional may recommend a bone graft for additional support.
Bone Graft Basics
A bone graft is any procedure where bone or a bone-like substitute is transplanted to an area of a patient’s body. Most often, bone grafts are used to strengthen the jawbone, but they may also be used to heal fractures, fuse joints or replace bone in larger parts of the body.
The short-term goal of a bone graft is to provide support in areas where bone no longer exists, and the long-term goal is to foster new bone growth. Bone grafts fill in gaps where bone used to be, providing a physical pathway for new bone growth. Some bone graft materials stimulate your body to produce more cells that help form bone (osteoblasts). In the best-case scenario, the bone graft will be entirely resorbed by the body, and new bone produced by your own body will fill the spot held by the graft.
How a bone graft heals depends largely upon the material chosen, such as:
- Autograft – Bone taken from the patient’s body
- Allograft – Bone taken from a donor, usually a deceased donor whose bone has been cleaned and processed by a bone bank, or occasionally a live donor who has had a bone-related procedure
- Xenograft – Bone taken from an animal, usually a cow or pig
- Alloplastic graft – Made from one or more naturally occurring or synthetic materials, such as hydroxyapatite, tricalcium phosphate or Bioglass
In some cases, growth factor can be used as a substitute for, or in combination with, bone grafting to stimulate faster bone production.
Why Your Jawbone Might Need a Graft
Your maxilla and mandible, or upper and lower jawbone, make it possible for you to chew your food and speak clearly. Each tooth has a tooth root anchored in the jawbone, which holds all your pearly whites in place.
Sometimes people lose one or all of their teeth. In these cases, reinserting the tooth or adding some sort of bridge, implant or graft is crucial. Otherwise, your jaw bone will atrophy, resulting in a weaker jaw and a mouth that looks collapsed.
There are many reasons one may have jawbone loss, including:
- Periodontitis – Swelling and infection of the gums, also called gum disease
- Tooth loss – Causes the jawbone to atrophy, regardless of whether tooth loss is the result of an accident or extraction
- Trauma – For example, a serious fall, sports injury or car accident
- Congenital defect – A patient may be born with an insufficient amount of jawbone
- Disease – Bone cancer and other serious diseases could cause the jawbone to dwindle
What a Bone Graft Procedure Looks Like
While bone grafting has cosmetic benefits, most people pursue the procedure at the recommendation of a dental professional because their oral health will suffer otherwise. This conversation often comes up when someone needs one or more dental implants.
Dental implants can replace a single tooth or support a set of multiple prosthetic teeth. A titanium post is surgically inserted in the jawbone to mimic a tooth root. The post is capped by an abutment, and the prosthetic tooth, or crown, attaches on top, completely concealing all parts of the implant and giving the appearance of a natural tooth.
Of course, this procedure is difficult without an adequate amount of jawbone in which the titanium post can be solidly anchored. Your oral surgeon may complete the following procedures to build up enough bone for an implant:
- Socket preservation – Powdered bone grafting materials are deposited in the socket left behind by an extracted tooth. A collagen covering is put on top and the gums are sutured closed to allow the area to heal. This procedure prevents the alveolar ridge from becoming misshapen.
- Sinus lift – The ends of the maxilla are the thinnest parts of the jawbone. If someone needs an implant near their molars or premolars, they may require a powdered bone graft. To do this, the surgeon makes an incision in the gums and lifts the sinus gently upward without puncturing it. The powder is placed in the opening and the gums are sutured shut.
If the area is large or there is no space to fill with powdered bone, your oral surgeon will likely recommend a block bone graft. Block bone grafts are tiny sections of bone that are often removed from the patient’s own body, primarily from the chin or the ramus part of the jaw. So little bone is removed that you are unlikely to notice any difference in the structure of your face. The graft is attached to the remaining bone with small screws, covered with powdered bone and topped with collagen.
Most dental bone grafts require at least a few months to heal before an implant is possible.
Receive Dental Bone Grafts From Providence Dental Spa
Everyone deserves to have a smile they are proud of. However, if you have tooth loss, jawbone loss or periodontitis, it can be difficult or even painful to smile.
At Providence Dental Spa in Macon, Georgia, our team handles all aspects of dental implants, including bone grafting. We take the time to explain your options and walk you step-by-step through the entire procedure, all in an office designed for relaxation.
If you have tooth or jawbone loss, Dr. Jason Mann at Providence Dental Spa can help. Call (478) 733-0857 to schedule your first appointment.