Although the name sounds serious, dental bone grafting is a relatively minor procedure. During a bone graft, the dentist makes a small incision along your jaw to expose the bone and graft new bone material to it. Bone grafts are necessary when your body fails to produce enough bone in your jaw.
Lack of bone in the jaw area is common in people who have lost adult teeth or had gum disease. When you lose an adult tooth, the bone in the surrounding area deteriorates. Gum disease also causes bone recession.
While it may not seem like a big deal, losing enough bone in your jaw can alter your face’s appearance. Facial sagging can occur when there is not enough bone to support the muscles and skin.
What to Expect from a Bone Grafting Procedure
There are different types of bone grafting procedures, each one suited to a specific issue. Generally, bone grafting material comes from another part of the patient’s body, although other humans and even animals can be suitable donors.
Bone from sources other than the patient’s own body is safe for use, as it is sanitized prior. This method may even be preferable for those wanting as minimally invasive a procedure as possible.
Bone grafting takes around two hours or less and takes place in your dentist’s office.
Types of Bone Grafting
Block Bone Graft
In a block bone graft, your dentist will take bone from the back of your jaw. Block bone grafts are usually used when there is significant bone loss.
Socket grafts are used as a bone loss prevention method and can be done simultaneously as a tooth extraction. Socket grafts are suitable for people who have lost adult teeth.
Sinus lift grafts are used on patients who have lost upper molars. Sometimes when molars are lost, the sinus reaches down to fill the gap. A sinus lift restores the sinus to its natural position and fills the gap with bone material.
If you require a dental implant, your old tooth will be removed before proceeding to grafting. New bone material will then be grafted onto the area to create a stable base for the implant.
You will likely have to wait several months before the implant can be placed, as your body needs to develop new bone around the grafted area before the implant can be safely added.
Bone grafting is often used to correct unsightly tooth roots and receding gums and protect dental roots from decaying.
To correct gum recession, dentists use a procedure called soft tissue grafting. During a soft-tissue graft, the tissue is taken from the roof of the patient’s mouth and attached to the gums where additional coverage is needed.
Conversely, cosmetic dentistry can be used when patients feel their teeth are too short. Teeth that appear short may be covered with excess gum tissue. To make teeth appear larger, the dentist can remove or reshape excess gum and bone tissue to expose more tooth. The focus can be a single tooth or the whole gum line.
Pain from bone grafting tends to be minimal and comparable to other minor dental procedures. The main issue will be swelling, which you’ll have to work to keep down to ensure proper healing. Painkillers may be helpful, but ice is often enough to reduce swelling and pain post-graft.
It may be a while before you can eat your regular diet. You’ll likely have to stick to liquids and soft foods while the area heals. Avoid hard or crunchy foods as they can interfere with healing.
Your doctor may recommend sleeping with your head slightly elevated to avoid blood collecting at the site of the procedure, causing more swelling.
In general, avoid any activities that can interfere with the healing process and try not to strain the area.
Risks and Complications
Complications from bone grafting are rare but can include:
- Infection in the area
- Damage to surrounding area such as other teeth or blood vessels
- Nerve damage resulting in pain or numbness in the teeth, gums, lips, or chin
- Sinus issues, in cases where the dental implant encroaches into the sinus cavity
Is Dental Bone Grafting for Me?
Bone grafting is a low-risk procedure, and most people are suitable candidates. However, healthy gums are a requirement for dental implants. Active gum disease will usually bar you from receiving bone grafting.
While smokers can receive bone grafting, they are at an increased risk for the procedure to fail due to the restricted blood flow to their gums caused by smoking.