How Does Bone Grafting for Dental Implants Work?

If you’re considering getting dental implants, your oral surgeon might bring up the term “bone grafting” to you. Perhaps the mention of bone grafts sends a chill up your spine. Indeed, it sounds frightening and serious, but actually, it’s a fairly painless and routine procedure. In fact, for many dental implant patients, it’s essential to success.

So how does bone grafting work for dental implants? What does it entail, and in what cases is it necessary?

The Way Your Jawbone Works

close up of dentist showing teeth model to patient

The teeth in your mouth do more than just help you chew food; they represent an integral part of the skeletal structure of your face. Your teeth connect with your jawbone in a mutually dependent manner. Not only do your teeth rely on a strong jawbone to keep them firm and in place, but your jawbone also depends on your teeth to keep it strong and healthy. When you lose teeth and they don’t get replaced, your jawbone begins to atrophy, becoming weaker and thinner and sometimes causing deformity in the face. (This frequently happens with denture wearers, as well, because dentures don’t connect to the jaw bone.) It’s the old use-it-or-lose it adage in play: When your jaw doesn’t have teeth to support, it withers/atrophies.

If you decide to get dental implants, there’s a decent chance that your jawbone is not yet able to support new teeth — especially if you’ve been without your natural teeth for a while, or if your present teeth have been damaged or diseased. This is why your oral surgeon may recommend a bone grafting procedure before attempting to place the implants, both to ensure that the implants actually stay in place and that your jawbone is not damaged in the process.

How Bone Grafting Works

Traditionally, bone grafting involves taking a segment of bone from another part of the body and grafting it onto the weaker area of bone in order to strengthen it. However, it’s become more commonplace to use sterile bone material harvested from animals (usually cows) or human tissue donors, rather than invade another part of the patient’s body to harvest bone. Sometimes the jaw is only mildly or locally atrophied, and only a small graft will be needed. Occasionally, a larger section of the jaw may require grafting. Typically, the longer your natural teeth have been absent, the thinner and weaker the jawbone is, and the larger the graft will have to be.

Once the graft is in place, the oral surgeon will take steps to hold the bone in place so it can bond successfully. In many cases, this involves covering the affected area with a special membrane; with more significant grafts, screws and plates may be used to hold the new bone material in place. The patient must then wait 4 to 5 months for the new bone material to bond with the jawbone. When the jaw is sufficiently healed and the surgeon is convinced the bone graft is successful, he will schedule next steps to begin the implant procedure.

When Do You Need Bone Grafting for Dental Implants?

If you are replacing bad teeth with implants and the doctor determines that you are a candidate for having implants at the same time as your old teeth are extracted, chances are the new teeth will be sufficient to protect the jawbone from decay. However, for many patients this is not feasible. It doesn’t take long for the jawbone to begin losing density after an extraction, so unless your extraction and implants take place in the same visit, there’s a moderate chance you’ll need at least a minor bone graft. Since many people don’t even consider implants until they’ve suffered for a while with tooth loss, larger bone grafts are more common than you might think. Regardless of how much atrophy your jaw has experienced, most bone grafts are highly successful, especially when performed by an experienced oral and facial surgeon.

Will you need bone grafts prior to getting dental implants? This is a decision to be determined by your oral surgeon. The best thing to do is schedule an appointment so your surgeon can do a complete evaluation and work with you on a game plan for your implant procedure. To learn more, call Riverside Oral & Facial Surgery at 706-235-5570,