So, you need dental implants, but your dentist tells you that you’ll need surgery first? What is a sinus lift and what does it have to do with dental implants? There are plenty of valid questions that come along with preparing for a sinus lift procedure. We answered some of the most common ones here, so you can relax and feel confident in preparing for your sinus lift.
What Is a Sinus Lift?
A sinus lift, sometimes called a sinus augmentation, is a surgery that adds bone to your upper jaw in the space between your molars and premolars, which is also the space between your jaw and the maxillary sinuses on either side of your nose. To make room for the bone, the sinus membrane has to be moved upward, or “lifted,” which gives the surgery its name. A sinus lift is usually done by a dental specialist like an oral maxillofacial surgeon or a periodontist.
When Do You Need a Sinus Lift?
When your dental implants can’t be placed because you don’t have enough bone height in the upper jaw, or your sinuses are too close to the jaw, you will likely need a sinus lift. There are many reasons you might have experienced bone loss that causes your need for a sinus lift, some of which include:
- Bone loss from periodontal (gum) disease
- Lost teeth in your upper jaw – particularly your back teeth or molars
- Reabsorption of bone into the body due to tooth loss
- The maxillary sinus is too close to the upper jaw
Over the last 15 years, more people are getting dental implants to replace missing teeth, making sinus lifts more common.
What Happens Before a Sinus Lift Surgery?
The first step in any sinus lift surgery is determining where the bone used in the surgery will come from. The three most common types of bone used in sinus lift surgeries are:
- Bone from your own body (autogenous bone)
- Bone from a cadaver (allogenic bone)
- Bone from a cow (xenograft)
If the bone comes from your own body, it will be taken from other areas of your mouth or body. In some cases, the surgeon removes bone from the patient’s hip or tibia (the bone beneath the knee) to use in the procedure.
After the bone source is identified, you will need X-rays taken so the surgeon or dental specialist can study the anatomy of your jaw and sinus. Some people require a special type of CT scan that will allow the specialist to accurately measure the height and width of your existing bone and to evaluate your sinus.
How Is a Sinus Lift Surgery Done?
Now on to the main act. Here’s a general sequence of events you can expect to take place during your sinus lift surgery.
- Your surgeon will cut the gum tissue where your back teeth used to be.
- The tissue is raised, exposing the bone underneath.
- Your surgeon will cut a small circle in the bone.
- The bony piece is lifted into the sinus cavity space and the hole is filled with bone graft.
- Your surgeon will close the incision with sutures, and the healing begins!
Your implants will be placed 4-12 months after your sinus lift surgery. This gives the added bone time to mesh with your existing bone. The amount of time between the surgery and implants depends on how much bone was added.
What Happens After a Sinus Lift?
After the sinus lift procedure, you might have some swelling in the area where the bone was added, but most patients only experience a little discomfort. You might also experience some light bleeding from your nose or mouth in the days immediately following surgery.
After your procedure, try not to blow your nose or sneeze frequently. (We know sneezing isn’t really in your control, but it can’t hurt to try!) Either of these things could cause the bone-graft material to move and loosen the stitches.
Your dentist or dental specialist might give you a saline spray to keep your nose moist, a prescription to prevent congestion and inflammation, a prescription for pain medicine, an antibiotic, and/or an antimicrobial mouthwash to help prevent infection.
You will have a follow-up appointment with the dental specialist 7-10 days after your surgery. During this appointment, the specialist will examine the surgical site and remove any stitches that have not dissolved on their own. In some cases, patients are asked to return a few more times for a check-in. There’s no need to worry, though. This is just to make sure the area is healing properly
What Are the Risks of a Sinus Lift?
As with any surgery or procedure, there is some risk in a sinus lift surgery. The main risk is that a sinus membrane could be punctured or torn. If this happens, the surgeon will either stitch the sinus tear or place a patch over it. If the repair to the sinus membrane is not successful, your surgeon might stop the procedure and give the hole time to heal before trying again.
Infection is also a risk, as with any surgical procedure. However, infections from a sinus lift are uncommon.
In rare cases, the existing bone does not integrate with the bone-graft material, which means that the grafted area does not develop a blood supply. If this happens, you might have to have the sinus lift procedure repeated.
When Should You Call a Professional After a Sinus Lift?
After a sinus lift, you should contact your surgeon if:
- Swelling or pain increases over time. (It should decrease after the first couple of days.)
- The bleeding continues after 1-2 days.
- Bleeding is bright red and continuous. (Normal bleeding after a sinus lift should be slow and dark red, potentially with clots.)
- You think the bone-graft material might have been dislodged after sneezing or blowing your nose.
- You develop a fever.
Getting a sinus lift can be daunting, but there’s no need to fear. Talk to your dental specialist about any questions or concerns you might have and they can give you any additional info you might need.