Bone grafting is a common medical procedure that introduces new tissue into your body to help bones heal. Although it may sound scary, it’s a well-documented procedure that’s helped many patients recover from damage to their bones.
The human body has an amazing potential to heal itself if given the proper tools, and bone grafts are one of the most useful, natural treatments known to modern medicine. Here’s everything you need to know about the purpose, types, and risks.
1. Why Bone Grafts?
Bone grafts can be used for bone fractures, regeneration, spinal fusion, and even dental work. Grafts are typically inserted when the body isn’t able to heal well on its own and needs extra support. Once introduced, the body uses these structures to grow new bone tissue and heal.
If you break a bone and it doesn’t heal well on its own, a graft can help it bind and become strong again. Sometimes, doctors use plates and screws to hold grafts in place until bone regenerates and recovers.
Sometimes, bone grafts are used to fuse two bones to reduce pain. Spinal fusion is a perfect example of this. During surgery, grafts are introduced to the spinal cord to join two vertebrae together. This prevents pain by eliminating movement between the vertebrae.
Periodontists who work with bone and tissue inside the mouth often use bone grafts to prepare their patients for dental repairs and implants. Once a tooth comes out, the bone supporting it will start to degrade. Bone grafts keep oral bones healthy until repairs can be made.
Bone grafting works differently depending on the type of graft used.
2. Types of Bone Grafting
Several types of bones are used for grafting purposes. Some are vascular, meaning they contain red blood cells and are considered live tissue. Others use dead, sterilized bones or synthetic materials conducive to bone growth.
Autografts are bone grafts taken from a patient’s own body. They’re typically harvested from the iliac crest in the hip bone before being grafted. This procedure requires two surgeries, but there’s a high chance of success because nothing foreign is introduced into the patient’s body.
Bone grafts that come from other people are called allografts. They are harvested from deceased tissue donors and are carefully sterilized and registered for later use. Allografts offer a strong framework for the patient’s own bone tissue growth. Because these bones aren’t vascular, patients don’t need to be matched to blood type.
Xenografts use bones from other animal species, like cows or pigs. Doctors sometimes also use synthetic bone grafts, which are available in large quantities and can be used in many ways to help patients heal. Some people also benefit from introducing their bone marrow to new grafts.
Dental bone grafts come in small pebbles that provide a collagen scaffold for new growth. After the tissue is introduced to your body, your cells will deconstruct it and use the material to build a new bone that is 100% your own. This reconstructed bone provides the perfect foundation for dental implants.
3. Risks of the Procedure
Bone grafting has been an accepted medical procedure for years. Recent advances in technology have made it possible to take bone grafting to new levels of precision and success. The risks associated with this kind of surgery are usually low.
However, bone grafts can fail or cause complications. The most common risks associated with bone grafting are a rejection of the new tissue and infection. If you experience fever, swelling, or draining near the surgery incision, you should contact your doctor for help.
In some cases, screws and plates meant to keep the new bone in place may come loose. This can cause pain until the problem is corrected. Like other major surgeries, bone grafting also comes with a risk of scarring, although this risk is typically minimal.
Nerve damage is also a risk during bone grafting. Although this complication rarely happens, it’s incredibly serious and can cause chronic pain. It’s essential to work with an experienced doctor who prepares thoroughly for the surgery to prevent this injury.
Are Bone Grafts Right for You?
Although there are some risks associated with bone grafting, it’s a highly effective surgery in most circumstances. It’s helped many individuals heal from broken bones and other medical complications over the past 100 years.
Talk to your doctor about whether or not bone grafting is right for you. This modern medical practice is a wonderful example of the partnership between medicine and the body’s natural ability to heal when given the right materials.