There have been many technological advances in oral hygiene technology in recent years. Dental specialists now have more techniques, tools, and methods than ever before to treat teeth, gums, and jaw lines to help ensure or enhance the integrity of a patient’s natural oral structure. A bone graft is a procedure that can be a highly effective treatment for several dental problems; however, they can fail occasionally. Therefore, it is good to be aware of the telltale signs that might signify that your bone graft has not been successful.

What Is A Bone Graft Procedure?

Bone graft procedures are a form of minor surgery used by dental specialists to stimulate new bone cells’ growth within the jawline. An incision is made into the gum to expose the bone underneath. Then grafting material is inserted into the bone, most commonly through a syringe. The graft material can be created from processed bone minerals. These minerals can be composed of your bone, other humans, animals, or a synthetically made material. Finally, the minerals are usually mixed with collagen, which encourages bone growth. The materials serve as a foundation onto which your body can then naturally create new bone cells.

Can Dental Bone Grafts Fail After The Surgery?

The short answer to this question is, unfortunately, yes. Bone grafts are surgical procedures, and they are not fool proof. They can fail if they have been carried out by an inexperienced surgeon, although experienced surgeons will also experience bone graft failures from time to time. A bone graft can become infected or fail due to problems with your health or surgery aftercare. If the material used in the bone graft is infected with bacteria, then the graft will fail. Likewise, if the tools used are infected, then there is a possibility that the infection will be transferred to the patient.

Bone grafts can also fail if the guidance for an aftercare regime is not followed. Any post-operative care methods or treatments advised by your dental specialist must be adhered to closely. Poor aftercare can prevent bone graft failure, which will result in further treatment becoming necessary. However, bone grafts can fail for a wide variety of reasons, so you should never feel ashamed or embarrassed if you suspect your bone graft is failing. It is not necessarily your fault, and you must get any possible failure assessed as quickly as possible.

What Are The Most Common Signs Of A Failed Bone Graft?

Several symptoms may indicate that your bone graft has not been successful. If you notice any of the following symptoms, you should immediately consult with your dental healthcare provider to resolve any issues.

  • Acute Pain. Some level of pain should be expected and managed with over-the-counter pain relief. However, if the pain is long-lasting, increasing over time, or severe, this can signify bone graft failure.
  • Intense or Prolonged Swelling. Again, a level of swelling can be expected but should subside within a few days. If the swelling continues or is sizable, then this can indicate that the bone graft has not taken with your body.
  • Continuous or Large Volumes of Leakage. There is an expectation for some drainage from the bone graft location. However, if there is a large volume of draining from the site, this can indicate the bone graft’s failure.
  • Bone Growth Does Not Occur. Bone grafts can fail without any evident symptoms; however, the bone should begin to rebuild slowly. If you do not feel the bone volume has increased, then the bone graft might not have been successful.
  • Gum Recession. Your gums may become damaged by gum disease and recede, resulting in any dental implants becoming loose. If this is the case, your bone graft will not be secure.

While these symptoms are most likely to occur within the three to four months following the procedure, there are occasions when a bone graft can fail a long time after the initial treatment. If this occurs, you should look out for the following symptoms:

  • You find you are clenching your teeth significantly more than usual.
  • Your mouth becomes infected with bacteria
  • You may notice your oral hygiene worsening despite regular care
  • You may notice your gum tissue recedes or bone volume dwindles in the area previously treated
  • You are experiencing pain in your neck or head
  • You feel your implants are under stress when eating or chewing.

If these symptoms are regularly occurring, you should follow up with a dental specialist who knows your bone graft. These symptoms have been known to occur a decade after surgery. Therefore constant vigilance is recommended after any surgery for years to come. If you have any suspicion or doubt about a bone graft’s integrity, quickly consulting with a specialist can prevent dental implants from falling out or significant intervention that may be required to treat a dental infection.

What Causes a Dental Bone Graft to Fail?

By far, the most common reason for bone graft procedures failing to result in bone growth is poor post-surgery aftercare. Patients must follow the instructions of their dental specialist closely. If the area of the graft is disturbed, then the chance of failure is significantly increased. Failure can result from the area becoming infected; there is not enough blood flowing to the treated area; there is a material movement before the area has fully healed.

Bone grafts can also fail if there is an infection in the treatment area or within the mouth. It is vital that any dentists undertaking the procedure use well-sterilized equipment and bone graft material that is clear of any infection.

Pain After Dental Bone Grafting

A patient can expect to experience a level of pain and discomfort after dental bone grafting procedures. Pain following the surgery should subside after three to four days. However, on occasion, pain may persist. If this is the case, you may require further attention and should contact your dental healthcare practice. Pain is often described as throbbing and can come and go after the bone graft or tooth extraction. Occasionally patients have also experienced pain while swallowing as the muscles in their throat have become swollen. Swallowing pain should also subside a few days after surgery, and swallowing should return to normal.

Dental Bone Graft Infection Symptoms

Occasionally infections can develop around the area of a dental bone graft. These are typically a form of gum disease called peri-implantitis. If left untreated, the bone graft will fail, and there is a possibility that the infection can develop and spread within the mouth and eventually infect other parts of the body. If an infection does occur, then depending on the level of infection, several treatment options are available. There may need to be further surgery, or treatment of antibiotics may be prescribed. The full course of antibiotics must be taken even if the pain subsides and signs of infection disappear before the course has finished. Common symptoms to look out for that may indicate you have a bone graft infection are:

  • Persistent bad taste within your mouth
  • Bad breath
  • A Fever or increased body temperature.
  • Persistent and painful throbbing in the area of the bone graft that lasts longer than a few days
  • A large amount of pus leaking from the infected area
  • Bleeding occurs when brushing around an implant

If you have any of these symptoms after a bone graft, then consult your dental practice.

Complications After Dental Bone Graft

Dental Bone Graft is a minor surgery, and like all surgeries, there is a risk of complications after surgery. Some complications include those previously mentioned. However, there can be other complications, and if you have any queries or suspicions that a bone graft may be causing you trouble, you should always consult your dentist immediately. Leaving a complication untreated can have serious consequences. In some cases, bone grafts can create scar tissue, and the bone graft procedure may need to be executed again to ensure bone develops at the site. Occasionally your body may reject foreign material, or the procedure may damage surrounding structures like other teeth, nerves, or blood vessels. Similarly, in upper jaw bone grafts, the graft may create sinus problems if the graft protrudes into a sinus cavity.

If the bone graft fails and bone volume does not increase or fuse sufficiently, then the procedure may need to be restarted. A restarted bone graft would require removing the implant, cleaning the bone to ensure there is no bacteria present, and then to retry the bone graft procedure.

If you are about to undertake a bone graft procedure, you should be aware of all possible symptoms that may indicate infection, bone graft failure, or other post-surgery complications. Taking care to follow all aftercare instructions as instructed by your dental surgeon will reduce the risk of dental graft failures; however, the risk can not be eradicated. You should always be cautious, even when practicing good oral hygiene. Bone graft failures can happen shortly after the operation but have also been known to occur months or even years later. Therefore constant vigilance is advisable.