We often think of bone as a hard, unchanging part of our body. Most people don’t realize though that bone is living tissue that can be damaged or destroyed to the point where it begins to disappear. If this happens to your teeth, a dental bone graft may be a good solution to restore the structure of your mouth. Many patients are concerned about the recovery from this alteration to their skeletons, which is understandable. Here are answers to eight of your most frequently asked questions when it comes to dental bone graft recovery.

What is a dental bone graft?

A dental bone graft uses bone tissue to help the body repair and heal around a dental surgery. There are two types of bone grafts:

  1. Allograft: Cleaned and sterile bone from a deceased donor or a cadaver
  2. Autograft: Bone that comes from the ribs, hips, pelvis, or wrist in the patient’s own body

While autografts used to be most common, these days using allografts prevents two surgical sites and is increasing in popularity.

Dental bone grafts help to rebuild and stabilize damaged or structurally unsound bone. This can be helpful to secure loose teeth, support bone growth after extraction, and build up bone for dental implants.

What to expect after a dental bone graft?

The bone graft healing process is straightforward. Your dental bone graft procedure is usually performed with a local anesthetic. Because a small incision is made in the gum to place the graft, your gums may be sore after surgery. Generally, patients can manage this with over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and ice to reduce swelling. In the months following the dental bone graft, the new bone will merge with existing bone.

If you have received a bone graft in preparation for a dental implant, your dentist will make sure the bone graft heals completely before placing the implant abutment in the jaw. Once this heals, a mold of your mouth is taken, dental implants are custom-made, and the dental implant can be placed.

How to care for a dental bone graft

Caring for a dental bone graft is similar to the way you would care for many types of oral surgery sites. After the bone graft, you may experience soreness that can be treated with ibuprofen and an ice pack. You may notice some swelling or bruising at the surgical site. This is normal and not generally a cause for concern.

Your dentist will give you specific instructions on aftercare, but in general, here are some guidelines to care for a dental bone graft:

  • Stick with a diet of soft foods: Pasta, yogurt, and cooked vegetables are all good options
  • Avoid spicy, salty, or extremely hot food: These can irritate the surgical site
  • Stay away from hard or sticky foods: These can damage stitches and cause pain
  • Avoid chewing on the surgical site: This also protects the stitches

However, always follow the specific guidelines from your dentist for optimal healing.

How long does it take to recover from a bone graft?

Dental bone graft recovery time varies from patient to patient. The surgical site should heal within a week or so after the surgery, but each case is highly variable. The bone graft process itself can take several months to complete.

How long does dental bone graft pain last?

Again, the answer to this question is highly variable. Patients who take good care of the surgical site should have less pain for a shorter period of time than those who do not. The physical process of grafted bone connecting to existing bone is not painful in and of itself.

Are there dental bone graft complications?

Bone grafting is a common dental procedure that is considered safe and holds a low level of risk for complications. There are, however, some risks that every patient should be aware of, including:

  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Blood clot
  • Nerve damage
  • Complications from anesthesia (if used)

If bone is donated from a deceased person or cadaver, there is a very rare chance of infection from the donated bone.

In some patients, the bone graft doesn’t “take.” This can be related to the reason for your bone graft, but is also affected by risk factors in each patient. Patients who smoke or have diabetes, for example, are at increased risk for dental bone graft complications. Other risk factors for bone graft failure include age, other medical conditions, and whether you are using your own or donated bone. It is important to disclose all medical conditions and discuss your concerns with your dentist before your procedure.

Can a bone graft fall out?

It is not uncommon for patients to see small particles of bone around the surgical site in the weeks following the bone graft. This does not mean your bone graft is falling out! This is a natural part of healing. In some cases, your dentist will cover the surgical site with a protective covering to help healing, and if this flakes off it can resemble bone.

A more common complication is dental stitches coming loose or falling out before the wound is healed. This can happen if you accidentally bite down on something hard before the wound is closed. If this occurs, call your dentist immediately. They can stitch up the area again.

What are the signs of dental bone graft failure?

Dental bone graft failure is an uncommon complication, but it does happen. A crucial part of the procedure is making sure the area of the bone graft is completely cleaned out and all inflamed tissue is removed before proceeding. If this does not occur, the residual debris and infection can cause the body to reject the graft.

Other common causes for failure include:

  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Poor blood supply
  • Poor general health
  • Infection
  • Allergic reaction
  • Verve or tissue damage

Look for the following symptoms of dental bone graft failure.

  • Severe pain
  • Sudden fever or feeling of being unwell (especially when accompanied by pain)
  • Shifting implants or loose teeth
  • Inflammation past surgical recovery period
  • Gums receding around the implant
  • Difficulty chewing or biting

If you experience any of these signs within three months of your dental bone graft, it is important to call your dentist immediately for a check-up.

Still have questions? In the Phoenix area, dental bone graft questions are our specialty! Call AZ Dentist today to get some answers.          

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