How Does Bone Grafting Help Patients Who Need Dental Implants?

Bone Grafting Dental Implants MJM Family & Cosmetic Dentistry

Every year in the U.S., millions of people receive dental implants to replace their missing teeth. Thanks to their natural design, dental implants are more comfortable and more secure than dentures and bridges, and they also look, feel, and function more like natural teeth, making them an extremely popular alternative to dentures and bridges. Thanks to their natural design, implants also help many men and women feel more confident about their teeth and their smiles after tooth loss.

While implants can be a great choice for most people, if your jaw bone is naturally thin or if it’s worn away (atrophied) over the years, there may not be enough bone tissue to support an implant securely. Does that mean you can’t have an implant? Not at all. Bone grafting can be a great solution, and at MJM Family & Cosmetic Dentistry, we have the skills and experience to perform both the grafting procedure and the implant placement as well — often in the same visit.

What causes bone atrophy?

Throughout your body, your bone tissue is constantly replenishing itself, forming new bone that’s used to replace old or damaged tissue. In your jaw, the bone replacement cycle is stimulated by your tooth roots. When your roots are in place, they work to continually stimulate that bone replacement cycle throughout your jaw, but specifically near the tooth they support, sending signals that “trigger” new bone cell development. But when you lose a tooth to trauma, decay, or some other cause, that means the root is gone too, so it’s no longer there to stimulate the bone replacement process. As a result, when bone tissue becomes worn out, it's no longer replaced by new, healthy bone tissue. And over time, your jaw bone in that area atrophies, or becomes thin as a result.

Bone atrophy is perhaps the most common cause of thin jaw bone, but it’s not the only cause. Some people are born with small jaws and a delicate bone structure that’s simply not robust enough to support an implant on its own. And still others may have had a past trauma, deep infection, or other medical problem that caused the bone in that area to become weak.

Interestingly, one of the benefits of dental implants is that the metal post acts like a replacement tooth root. Once the implant is in place, the post begins to stimulate the bone replacement cycle again, helping the bone tissue in the area to stay strong. In fact, in this way, a dental implant may actually help prevent future tooth loss by keeping the bone in the entire area strong and healthy. But the question is, if your jaw bone is already thin, how can you add enough bone tissue to enable you to support a new implant in the first place? That's where bone grafts come in.

The bone graft process

In a bone graft, the dentist uses a small sample of bone from elsewhere in your mouth to “build up” the area of your jaw where the implant will be placed. The process starts by harvesting a small amount of bone tissue, most commonly from the palate (the upper part of your mouth). Then, that tiny sample of bone is placed inside your jaw bone. Once it’s in place, the incision site is closed, and the area is allowed to heal over the course of several weeks. During that time, the graft material fuses with your natural bone, augmenting the existing bone so that there's enough material to support your dental implant (a process called osseointegration). The grafting procedure can be done on its own, or it may be done at the same time that the dental implant post is placed inside your jaw.

Not every patient will need a bone graft prior to implant placement. An exam and X-rays at MJM Family & Cosmetic Dentistry can determine if there’s enough bone to support the implant or if a graft is recommended to provide that additional support. If you’d like to learn more about implants and how they can improve your oral health, book an appointment online today.

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