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What Is Bone Wax?

Beeswax is used to make bone wax.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 01 September 2014
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Bone wax is a product which is used in orthopedic surgery to stop bleeding from cut bone surfaces. Several manufacturers of surgical supplies produce it. Pharmaceutical companies have also developed alternative products, some of which have been approved for use in surgery. These alternatives appear to reduce the risks associated with bone wax while filling the same function in surgical procedures. Surgical supply catalogs usually stock this product and hospitals can also order it directly from manufacturers. Sometimes better rates can be negotiated when buying in bulk from the company which produces the product.

While bone is often used as an evocative symbol of death, bones themselves are very much alive. They are highly vascularized with a rich blood supply and when they are cut in surgery, they bleed. Soft tissue bleeds in surgery are usually controlled with cautery, but this is not an option for bone. As a result, surgeons turn to bone wax. This product is smeared across the cut surface to plug the holes in the bone, which stops bleeding. It can also promote clotting to stop bleeding.

This product is made from beeswax which is mixed with a softener so that it will be malleable when the surgeon handles it. Bone wax is supplied in small sterile packages to reduce the risk of infection. The wax is usually firm at cool temperatures, making it easy to store until it is needed.

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One problem with surgical bone wax is that it can inhibit union of bones after surgery. For this reason, it is not recommended for some procedures. It has also been linked with infection, although there is some dispute about the strength of the connection. This product also lingers in the body because it cannot be broken down, and it can cause complications in the future if the immune system determines that it is a foreign object.

Synthetic bone wax is made from water soluble polymers. This product is viewed as a useful alternative because it also stops bone bleeding without causing the associated complications. The body can break the polymer down and express it, which means that it will not inhibit bone healing. Synthetic products are often designed to look and feel like traditional bone wax so that surgeons can work with a product which feels familiar. Both traditional and synthetic bone wax can be used as carriers for medications including anti-inflammatory drugs which may be used to reduce inflammation at the surgery site.

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TreeMan
Post 4

@titans62 - I believe a lot of the cauterization done today uses electricity or chemicals to stop bleeding rather than direct heat. I assume it was found that heat wasn't appropriate for certain procedures, like you mentioned.

I'm no expert in how either version works. I would guess that the electric version stimulates the blood to clot somehow. Obviously, the chemical version would have to alter the vessel in some way.

Our techniques for stopping blood flow has definitely advanced from as recently as the Civil War when wounds were cauterized by using a red hot iron!

titans62
Post 3

I wasn't aware any sort of product like this existed. What do they use to stop bleeding on parts of the body where they can't cauterize or use wax?

Maybe surgeons can safely cauterize any soft tissue, but it seems like using heat to stop the bleeding around the heart or some other organ might prove to be dangerous. Does anyone have any thoughts about this?

Izzy78
Post 2

@matthewc23 - I was a little perplexed by the blood and bone comment, but then I started to think about it. In the middle of bones is the marrow. This is the part of the body that actually produces new red blood cells, so it would only make sense that the bones have to have several thousand blood vessels to carry the blood from the marrow to the rest of the circulatory system.

I would be curious to know about dental wax, as well. I had never thought about what dentists use to stop bleeding.

matthewc23
Post 1

Wow, I learned so much from this article. For one, I had never thought about bones being able to bleed. The article mentions them being highly vascularized, but what does the blood do in the bone? Our bones don't need oxygen or anything, do they?

I was also wondering whether there was some sort of bone wax used in dental procedures. For example, if you get a tooth pulled, do they use some sort of material to reduce the bleeding? I've never had a tooth pulled, so I'm just guessing.

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