One of the main reasons for infections to happen in bone grafts is failing to follow the dentist’s instructions and take good care of the area after the surgery. It can be treated with antibiotics pretty easily, but you will need to be sure to take the full course of medications. Signs that you have an issue include a lot of pain, a feeling that the graft is not attached, and inflammation of the gums.
Bone grafts during a dental implant procedure are quite common. While most surgeries are quite successful, on rare occasions patients may get an infection after a dental bone graft.
What is a bone graft?
A bone graft procedure is done when your jaw bone itself is not strong enough for the implants to set correctly. You may have had bone disease or gum disease which led to tooth loss in the first place, and those factors mean you also need a bone graft to strengthen the jaw. You might have had a bad bacterial infection or even an injury that has also led you to bone loss and thus the need for a graft.
Another reason you might need a bone graft is that your jaw is just not big enough to hold the implants, and it needs to be built up.
The bone graft itself is either a real natural bone or a manufactured bone. The natural bone might come from another part of your body, or it might come from a donor or cadaver. If you can use your own bone, this is the best choice since it will heal and become part of your jaw more quickly. No matter what kind of graft you get, the entire jaw will grow to seal it in.
So where does your own bone graft come from? Your dentist will try to relocate some bone from your chin area first, but since your jaw may be compromised and hence the need for the implant, another option is bone from either the hip or the shin. If you do have to have bone removed, this is a significant surgery and will require hospitalization.
Now, about that donor material…. You might feel a little squeamish about getting a cadaver bone, so another option is bone from a cow. Artificial bones can be made from certain proteins that use other cells and convert them into bone.
Your dentist will go over all of your options with you to make sure that you get the right solution for you.
How does a bone graft get infected?
One reason for the infection is the graft itself. Even though it is your own bone, because it is from an area that is not part of the jaw, the body may reject it. Alternatively, the donor bone may carry infection to you.
Another risk factor is smoking or other things you do that do not take good care of the area post-surgery. Smoking can actually raise your risk of implant failure to 20%.
Then there is a bacterial infection that could result if the tools used during the bone grafting were not sanitized properly, which is rather uncommon.
Is an infection likely?
The good news is, no. Most bone grafts are very successful. In fact, nearly 95% of grafts are successful.
And, if an implanted graft fails, your oral surgeon or dentist will probably be able to replace it pretty reliably. Should you have an infection, it can generally be treated with a course of antibiotics. You may even be given a course of antibiotics just as a matter of treatment for the post-operative time.
How to care for the graft area
Caring properly for the graft area after bone grafting surgery is important. Your dentist will likely give you a set of instructions to follow, but some general guidelines include:
- Keep the gauze on the area for 30 minutes after the procedure is over to reduce bleeding.
- Avoid rinsing your mouth to keep any clots from coming loose and causing bleeding.
- Don’t touch the graft area.
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever or the prescription your dentist gives you to cut down on the discomfort. You should avoid aspirin or acetaminophen as these can increase the risk of bleeding. If the pain doesn’t go away in a few days, contact your dentist.
- Ice the area to help reduce swelling.
- Don’t engage in any major activities and try to rest at home as much as possible.
- Stand up slowly. If you have been lying down for a while, come to a sitting position and stay there for a while before you try to stand.
- Your face and lips will likely be numb for a while after surgery, but if they stay numb, you should call your dentist.
- You may also experience a bit of a fever. This is normal and should also go away in a few hours. Ibuprofen will help reduce this also.
- Because your mouth will have been held open during the bone grafting surgery, the corners of your mouth may be dry or even cracked. Apply an ointment gently to help moisturize the area.
- You may notice you have a slight sore throat. This is also normal –after all, your jaw has just endured a trauma. This should subside in a couple of days.
- The muscles of your jaw may be tired or stiff from being held open for a while. This, too, will pass in a couple of days.
- Avoid drinking through a straw for a few days, since the sucking action may even dislocate the graft and set you back. This does not mean you should avoid liquids! In fact, you should have a cool liquid diet for a few days. Enjoying things like applesauce or yogurt may be very soothing.
- You should still brush your teeth but do so carefully. Use a manual brush for a while and avoid using a water irrigator. They are just too powerful for the delicate recovery area.
While it is possible to get an infection after a dental bone graft, the chances of infection are rare and with proper care of the surgery site, you are not likely to introduce infection. Also, choosing a trustworthy dentist with a good reputation will also help you ensure you get quality care. Your best chance for success is with a self-supplied graft from either your chin or leg. An artificial substance would also be a good choice, though donor grafts are also sterilized. Take good care of your surgical site and your graft should be a success.
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Call us at (786) 540-1919 to schedule a free orthodontic exam.
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