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Common Signs of A Dental Bone Graft Failure 

Dental bone grafting is necessary when there is bone loss in the jaw. Dentists recommend this procedure before surgery to create a solid base for the implant. 

Dental bone grafting involves transplanting a piece of bone into the jawbone. In the months after the surgery, the bone regenerates and grows. Once healing is complete, the dentist can proceed with the dental implant surgery. 

Most dental bone grafts are successful. Unfortunately, some fail, even when precautions are taken. It is important that you recognize the signs and symptoms of bone graft rejection to get it checked quickly. 

6 Major Signs and Symptoms of Dental Bone Graft Failure 

Experiencing symptoms after a bone graft is normal. For example, pain, swelling, and bruising after a dental bone graft are usually nothing to worry about. These symptoms should go down in the days following the procedure.

However, if you experience any of the symptoms below, it could indicate that you have a bone graft failure:  

Significant drainage at the site 

There is no need to be alarmed if there is only a little leaking in the area. However, call your dentist if it does not improve with time or if you leak a lot of blood. The presence of pus is also a concern because it is a sign of bone graft infection. 

Severe pain 

As mentioned above, you should expect pain in the next few days after the procedure. So how can you know if the pain you are experiencing is abnormal? 

First, you should be able to control the pain with medication. The pain should also be getting better with time and last only a few days. 

There are three signs you should watch out for: 

  • Your pain is not getting better even after taking the maximal painkiller dose.
  • Your pain lasts several days after the procedure and never decreases in intensity.
  • Your pain first improved and then got worse. 

Severe swelling 

Swelling should get better over time and not worse. If you notice severe swelling at the site, it might indicate a failed bone graft. 

Absence of bone growth 

You should feel like your bone is increasing in size after the graft. If there is no change in bone volume even after several months, it might be because the procedure was unsuccessful. 

Receding gum or gum disease 

A gum infection lasting for a few months after the procedure is another sign of rejection of bone graft. Detachment of the gum from the tooth (receding gum) also indicates failure. 

Nerve damage  

Bone graft failure can result in nerve damage in the area of the procedure. If a sensory nerve is affected, symptoms include numbness, loss of sensation, and shooting pain. If a motor nerve is damaged, moving the jaw will be difficult. This can cause trouble speaking and eating, as well as drooling. 

Symptoms of late-stage dental bone graft failure 

Most dental bone graft failure symptoms appear in the days, weeks, or months after the procedure. It is considered an early failure if it happens within four months of the surgery.

However, you should keep looking for signs of failure, even after four months, in case you experience late-stage failure. Indeed, bone graft rejection can happen up to twelve months after the surgery. 

Therefore, in the year following your bone graft procedure, you should keep an eye out for: 

  • Signs of bacterial infection in the gums or teeth. Those include swollen and tender gums, bad breath, bright red gums, and pus. Other possible signs are blood when flossing or brushing and spacing out of the teeth. 
  • Frequent jaw clenching, or at least more than normal 
  • Reduction of the bone volume or sudden gum receding 
  • Unusual or new headache. Some neck pain is also possible
  • Pressure or pain when chewing 
  • Worsening oral health despite daily brushing and flossing 

What Causes Bone Graft Failure? 

Dental bone grafts have a high chance of success, but failure can happen if: 

  • Post-surgery aftercare is not adequate.  You might need to take antibiotics to prevent infections. You should also rinse your mouth three times a day with a special mouthwash given to you by your dentist. 
  • Poor oral hygiene. You should avoid brushing and flossing in the next few days after your surgery to prevent damaging the surgical site. However, once the site is healed, you should resume doing both daily. 
  • The surgery site or another area in the mouth becomes infected.
  • There is poor blood circulation. Smoking is one of the common reasons for bad circulation. Lack of blood at the surgical site slows down healing and causes complications. 

How to Avoid Bone Graft Failure 

Bone graft failure is sometimes inevitable, but there are things you can do to reduce the risk: 

  • Avoid touching the site with your fingers during recovery. This will help prevent infections. 
  • Avoid touching the site with your tongue, and limit your lip movements. It could cause the sutures to fall off and prevent adequate healing. 
  • Stop smoking one month before the surgery and during the recovery process. Smoking can slow down healing. 
  • Eat soft foods during the recovery process to prevent damage in the area. For example, eat yogurt, smoothies, puddings, and ice cream.  
  • Avoid intense physical activity for two weeks after the bone graft. It could cause bleeding and complications. 

Take-Home Message 

Dental bone graft surgeries are useful to replace the bone loss in the jawbone. Unfortunately, they can sometimes fail, the most common reason being poor aftercare in the days following the procedure.

Failed dental bone grafts can result in excessive pain, swelling, and drainage. Other possible symptoms include receding gums, nerve damage, and absent bone growth. 

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