While some patients can get implant surgery right away, others may have to wait until they have sufficient jaw bone from a graft. Although a bone graft surgery can lengthen the time you have to wait to get an implant, it is vital to have strong bone. Implant posts—the part of the implant that's embedded beneath your gum line—can only last if you have sufficient jaw bone. Otherwise, the implant could fail and/or get infected, and you'd need to have it replaced. Here are some questions you might have about bone grafts before implant surgery.
Who Needs Bone Grafts for Dental Implants?
Again, not everyone needs a bone graft. Your dentist will take imaging tests and perform an oral exam to see if you have sufficient bone density. Patients that could need bone grafts include those that have lost teeth due to decay or an injury. If your teeth have been missing for some time, the jaw bone may have shrunk. People with certain health conditions, like diabetes, may need a graft just because their bodies heal more slowly; a bone graft creates a more solid base for the implant and can speed recovery and osseointegration.
If You Need a Graft, Where Will it Come from?
There are synthetic grafts that your dentist can place that can encourge your body to build more osteoclasts, or cells that build bone tissue. If you have strong bone in another area in your mouth, your dentist can use a graft from that site to build up your jaw bone. However, bone from a donor or from an animal (e.g. cow) can also be used. Wherever the graft comes from, it will still be processed by a laboratory so it's sterile.
What Is the Grafting Surgery Like?
You can get your bone graft placed at a dental office or clinic. Your dentist will make a small incision in the gum line to gain access to the underlying bone. He or she will then place the graft and stitch the site back up to heal. This procedure is an out-patient surgery. Your dentist will use local anesthetic and you may be lightly sedated. You may be a little sore and have some bruising or swelling aftwards. Your dentist may also have you eat soft foods in the early stages while the stitches heal. Some people may need to return to their dentist's office to have their stitches removed, but some stitches are made of natural materials—like collagen—and will dissolve on their own.
Once the Bone Graft Heals, What Are the Next Steps?
Although your gums may heal in a couple of weeks after surgery, it can take many months for the jaw bone to actually build up in density. Once you have sufficient jaw bone, then your dentist will proceed with the dental implant procedure. You'll need a few appointments to get your implant. During the first appointment, your dentist will place the post into the jawbone. Like the bone graft, it takes a few months for the post to integrate into the jaw line. Once the post has healed, then your dentist can fit you for the abutment and crown which will sit on top of the post.