When you hear the words “bone graft” from your oral surgeon, your initial reaction will likely be less than perky. It sure sounds scary, doesn’t it? With regular dental care and improved implant techniques, dental bone grafts are less common than they were 20 or so years ago. But in some cases they are still necessary.
If, like the majority of Americans over the age of 24, you have untreated tooth decay and/or have lost three or more teeth, your jawbone may be deteriorating due to disuse. Our teeth, and the way we use them, are responsible for keeping our jawbones in peak condition. When we lose teeth, we often lose jawbone – and the more teeth we lose, the more the jawbone disintegrates, to the point where you may not have enough bone to support dental implants or even to secure a denture.
Bones for use in a graft were harvested from a patient’s ribs until fairly recently, or were taken from cadavers, but now dental grafts are typically done with bovine (cow) bone. The cow bone has been sterilized and carefully prepared for use in a human. Once placed in your jaw, it initially acts as a “biological placeholder,” preventing the collapse of the surrounding bone and tissues. Eventually, your body accepts the bone as its own, and over time will absorb the graft and replace it with new bone.
But what if you don’t want a cow bone in your jaw? Perhaps you’re a vegan, or maybe your body has previously rejected a bovine graft. You could opt for synthetic bone, or – thanks to a breakthrough in bio-engineering – you may soon be able to grow your own replacement bone.
Epibone, a startup in NYC, has figured out a way to successfully grow healthy living bones out of a person’s own harvested stem cells. Nina Tandon, PHD, MBA and her colleague Elisa Cimetta, PHD co-founded the company, hoping to find a better way to provide the basic material needed for the 2 million procedures performed worldwide every year that involve bone grafting.
“There’s no other way to say it, if you need a piece of human bone, the only way to get it is to cut it out of a human. We’re hoping to disrupt that process and view the body as a renewable resource of cells that we can use to grow bones from scratch,” says Tandon.
EpiBone’s implantable bone process seems very likely to dramatically decrease any risks of rejection because the bone will be made from a patient’s own cells and because each bone is custom-built, it will have a clean and precise fit (unlike big bulky synthetic bone or bone cut from elsewhere). This means shorter surgery and recovery times.
First a CT scan is performed to create a 3D structure of a patient’s bone. Then a decellularized bovine bone is carved into the structured shape. Fat tissue is taken from a patient and stem cells are extracted from it. The stem cells and piece of carved bone are combined in a bioreactor (a container capable of supporting tissue growth outside of the body). After three weeks in the bioreactor, the new bone is ready for implantation.
Looking forward, it’s conceivable that the process could someday be used to regrow your own teeth, turning your body into a living 3D printer. Yes, it’s an imaginative stretch – but one that’s in the realm of possibility.
In the meantime – better take care of the teeth you have. Regular, preventative care is currently the best way to keep your mouth and jaw healthy. If dental care just isn’t in your budget, you need a dental saving plan – you can save 10%-60% at the dentist with the right plan. To learn more call one of our :DP AtYourService Customer Care Representatives at 1-800-238-5163.