Grafting is a surgical procedure in which tissue is surgically implanted into the body, either from another part of the body or from another source. You’ve probably heard of grafting as it relates to skin grafting, a technique often used to treat skin loss caused by burns or wounds. In dentistry, bone grafting is sometimes used when a patient wants a dental implant.
Not all patients who want dental implants will need a bone graft, and not every patient will be a viable bone graft candidate. Bone grafts are only necessary if a patient’s jawbone can’t ordinarily accept an implant. This could be because there isn’t enough jawbone, or because the jawbone is too soft.
Bone grafts can be made out of a number of different materials; they can be constructed from bones transplanted from another part of your body, or they can be made from synthetic materials. As you might imagine, this surgery can be pretty taxing on the body. Depending on how extensive the graft needs to be, it may be months before you can actually get your implant after a graft. Some grafts are relatively minor, however, and for those you may well be able to get the implant on the same day the graft is done.
As mentioned above, bone grafts aren’t suitable for everyone. Your dentist may be less inclined to proceed with a bone graft if you have diabetes, if you’re a long-time smoker, if you have a history of negative reactions to anesthetics, or if you’re elderly. They may also advise you of potential complications if you’re taking certain medicines for osteoporosis or other health conditions. It’s important to go over your full medical history with your dentist if you plan on getting a bone graft, and to listen to any instructions and guidance your dentist gives you.
John Hopkins has an excellent article on bone grafts; it’s a bit generic and doesn’t only apply to dentistry, but it should give you a better idea of what the process looks like. Keep in mind that it can take up to a year for the graft to fully integrate, so it might be quite some time before the implant is actually feasible. In this way, bone grafts are likely not viable for those who want more immediate results.
Once the bone graft is fully healed, the implant procedure can occur as normal; osseointegration (where the titanium rod incorporates with your jawbone) becomes possible. Though bone grafts and implants aren’t for everyone, a professional dentist near you can help you determine whether or not the procedure is viable. Should you find that dental implants aren’t in your future, there are plenty of other devices that can restore your oral health, from dentures to dental bridges.