A bone graft procedure takes advantage of the fact that bone tissue is capable of regenerating, unlike many other tissues in the human body. In cases where bone has been seriously damaged or has been surgically removed, such as in cancer treatment, bone grafting helps the body heal itself naturally by stimulating growth of the remaining bone. Bone is also sometimes grafted to the jaw to provide a foundation for dental implants, which usually must be screwed directly into the jawbone.
Bone grafts can come from different sources. Autologous tissue is harvested from the patient who is to receive the graft. Common locations for harvesting include the hip bone, femur, the chin area, or the skull. The latter locations are used more often to harvest tissue for dental bone grafting. Autografting generally is the most likely method to be successful, since the likelihood of rejection of the bone tissue is extremely low. Autografting, however, requires a second surgical procedure in order to harvest the bone, bringing with it the usual risks of infection or other complications common to major surgery.
By contrast, allograft bone is harvested from other sources. Allograft bone is most frequently taken from donated cadaver bone, which often is stored in bone banks. This type of implant bone graft is more likely to cause rejection in the recipient. These bone donations can be fresh, flash-frozen, or freeze-dried through a special process.
Another possible source for an implant bone graft is an artificial source. Artificial bones usually are formed from calcium phosphate ceramics. These specially formed materials also can help stimulate bone growth at the grafting site. There is some debate as to whether artificial bone is as effective as autografting.
While bone graft surgery can be effective for many different bone injury issues, the procedure is most commonly used in dental applications. Many patients turn to dental implants to replace removable dentures they have used for years. Long-term denture use can cause the bone in the jawbone to break down. When implants are installed, patients with missing bone often are treated with bone grafts to provide support for the implants.
Other situations where a bone graft can be used are limb salvage, replacing bone after injury or after cancerous bone has been removed, and repairing broken bones. Some congenital conditions also can be treated with bone grafting. Recovery from this kind of procedure can take several weeks to several months.