An allograft is a type of bone graft that transplants bone from one person to another. In dentistry, this type of graft is often used to enhance an area of the mouth in preparation for dental implant placement. Allografts are taken from human cadaver tissue in a process that is highly regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration and the American Association of Tissue Banks. Allografts are carefully processed to prevent any transmission of disease and are completely safe.
Why Are Grafts Necessary?
The part of the jawbone that forms a tooth socket is critical for supporting the tooth root. Dental implants, like natural teeth, require sufficient bone to support them. When a tooth is lost, the adjacent bone can also be lost due to advanced periodontal disease or attrition. Think of how a muscle atrophies when it is not being used. If there is not enough bone to hold a tooth, then there will not be enough bone to support a dental implant. The allograft procedure provides a way to solve this problem.
The Graft Procedure
Allografts come in many forms: solid pieces (block grafts), lattice-like sponges (cancellous bone chips), putty and bone particles mixed with other growth-inducing substances. Just like the studs you see in a house under construction, the graft itself serves as a scaffold for the body to build its own bone.
The procedure can be performed by a dentist with specialized training, a periodontist or an oral surgeon. It is best done at the time of an extraction to prevent additional bone loss and preserve the architecture of the jaw. Grafts can be done comfortably with local anesthesia and may take less than an hour. The soft tissue may heal in three to four weeks, but bone takes much longer to regenerate. There is usually a three- to six-month healing period before the implant can be placed.
The normal risks inherent in any surgical procedure also hold true for grafts. Although rare, they would include the possibility of pain, swelling, bleeding, infection and numbness. There is also the possibility that the graft will not heal properly or not provide as much bone as anticipated. Your dentist can help you find a solution for any discomfort or unexpected outcome.
Please be sure to follow any post-operative instructions your dentist gives very carefully. These will likely include:
- Take all medications as recommended.
- Do not spit, rinse, drink through a straw or suck on lozenges for 24 hours.
- Apply an ice bag or cold compresses to the affected area as directed.
- Eat soft foods and avoid chewing on the surgical site until you return for a follow-up appointment. Avoid eating or drinking hot liquids until the anesthesia has worn off.
- Keep up with daily brushing and flossing in all areas except in the surgical site.
- Refrain from using an electric toothbrush in the area of surgery for six to eight weeks following your procedure.
- Call your dentist if you have any questions or concerns.
They may sound intimidating, but allografts are now a routine procedure in dentistry. Discuss all of the available options with your dentist if you think you could benefit from a dental implant.