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.
Fortunately, excessive bone loss isn’t inevitable if you lose a tooth. Dentists can perform bone grafting procedures with materials that stimulate new bone growth at the missing tooth site. And, if placed immediately after a tooth extraction, grafting can prevent excessive bone loss and allow for future dental implants to be placed.
How Bone Grafts Work
Bone grafts are derived from one of four possible sources: the patient, another human being, an animal or synthetic materials. The source used will depend on whichever the dentist believes will work best in the patient’s situation.
The graft itself acts more as a platform for nearby bone to grow upon; the new bone growth will eventually replace the graft material, which is made up of the minerals calcium, phosphorous and hydroxyapatite. The dentist may also cover the graft with collagen membranes to guide the regeneration, or synthetic material that acts with other biologically active molecules in the body to promote healing. These materials are eventually absorbed by the body.
Not all grafting procedures are alike—the particular approach taken will depend on the location in the mouth, the degree of bone loss, and whether the grafting takes place immediately after removing a tooth (extraction) or if some time has passed since tooth loss.
In the case of tooth extraction, one option would be for the dentist to fill the site with bone-grafting materials after removing the tooth and before suturing the gum in place. Immediate grafting can limit bone loss during gum healing and facilitate a future dental implant procedure. If the tooth has been missing for some time and the remaining bone is insufficient, the dentist will make an incision in the gum tissue to expose the bone, place and secure the graft along with any planned membranes or growth factors, and then suture the incision closed. Procedures like this are usually performed with local anesthesia.
After a grafting procedure, patients may experience only mild discomfort for a few days, usually managed with anti-inflammatory, non-steroidal medications like ibuprofen. As a precaution against infection, an antibiotic may also be prescribed.
Bone Regeneration Expands Your Restorative Choices
Besides halting a patient’s accelerated bone loss, bone grafting could also make possible the best tooth replacement choice available in cosmetic dentistry—dental implants. Since their introduction over three decades ago, dental implants have increased in popularity among both patients and dentists for their lifelike appearance, durability and applicability with a number of other tooth replacement options.