The incredible adaptability of bone is what makes it such an amazing part of the body. We often think of our bones as immovable, permanent structures, but they are actually living tissue that can change, grow, be damaged, and die. When the last two instances—bone damage and death—occur in the jaw, a dental bone graft can help restore the beauty and function of your teeth in preparation for dental restorations.

What is a dental bone graft?

A dental bone graft is a procedure that helps damaged bone repair itself. 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 areas in the patient’s own body, such as the hip

While autografts used to be most common, these days using allografts is becoming more popular. Allografts reduce the number of surgical sites (just the site of the dental surgery instead of that site and the site of extraction on the body).

Dental bone grafts help your body to generate new bone growth that restores the bone to its previous healthy form. This maintains your facial structure and prevents your skin from sagging over diminishing bone. When bone begins to deteriorate, the resulting facial sag can give us the appearance of premature aging.

Many dental procedures that use bone grafts are successful because the bone has been restored and is strong. Without a bone graft, these treatments might be unsuccessful.

What treatments need a bone graft?

Dental bone grafts help to rebuild and stabilize damaged or structurally unsound bone. This stability is necessary and beneficial for the following treatments.

  • Preserving natural teeth: Periodontal disease can cause bone loss that loosens teeth in their sockets. A dental bone graft can build up the bone in the socket to preserve these teeth and keep them in place.
  • Bone graft after tooth extraction: When teeth are extracted from the jawbone, the resulting bone loss can make any restoration tricky, if not impossible. Most dentists will add a bone graft to the end of the extraction procedure to help the bone heal as well as the extraction site.
  • Bone graft for dental implants: Replacing a single extracted tooth with a dental implant is only possible when the jaw has enough structural stability to support the implant. In a circular relationship, a strong bone supports an implant, and an implant increases the health of the bone.

Whenever a patient suffers bone loss in the jaw or requires more bone to complete a dental restoration, a bone graft is a common and helpful method to provide stable support.

What to expect after dental bone graft?

The bone graft procedure is usually performed right in your dentist’s office under local anesthetic. Because your gums will be completely numb, you should not experience any bone graft pain during the procedure itself, but talk to your dentist if you have concerns.

Your dentist will make a small incision in the gum where the bone is to be grafted. The harvested bone will then be placed into the incision and closed with stitches.

Bone graft healing time (and bone graft recovery time) varies from patient to patient. The surgical site itself will begin to heal within a week. Most patients see complete healing of their dental bone graft within three months, with bone growth getting underway during that time as well.

Taking care of the bone graft site

It is important to take good care of the surgical site to promote proper healing. Doing so will decrease the healing time and increase your comfort.

Pain and swelling, and even some bruising, is normal and should go away within a few days. For most patients, over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen can control both pain and swelling, as can ice packs. If your dentist removed extensive decay, they may prescribe antibiotics to minimize the chance of infection.

Many patients are concerned about eating and drinking after a dental bone graft. Your dentist will give your specific guidelines to follow, but in general, here’s what you can eat after 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: