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Socket preservation maintains the integrity of a socket after a tooth is removed. This is important if a patient indicates a desire for an implant to replace the missing tooth, as it can be harder to design and place dental implants without socket preservation. In addition, it can protect the patient from problems like receding gums and collapsing cheeks, which can be a concern after tooth extractions. A dental provider may recommend this to a patient as part of an extraction procedure or shortly afterward to preserve dental health.
The concern with extractions is that once a tooth is removed, the bone around the extraction site tends to start resorbing. This includes the alveolar ridge, which provides important structural support for the tooth sockets. Once the bone starts to shrink it cannot grow back, and the patient’s gums may also pull away. The result can be unsightly, especially if the cheek starts to sink in around the spot where the tooth was removed. It is also difficult to put in a dental implant once the jaw starts to degrade.
In the socket preservation process, the dentist adds a small graft or scaffold to the site to keep the socket in place and maintain the jaw structure. There are several sources for graft material, and the best may depend on the case. It can be harvested from the patient in an autograft or a cadaver in an allograft. Another option is to use material from an animal like a pig, using a xenograft to repair the socket. Dentists may also consider an alloplast made from synthetic materials to fill the socket and hold it in place.
Medical providers perform a socket preservation by carefully adding grains of the graft material and packing the site. Patients may notice a gritty sensation in the mouth for the first few days as the draft takes and excess material flushes away. Usually it is necessary to exercise care while eating, drinking, and cleaning the teeth in the first few days to avoid disturbing the graft site. The dentist can periodically check the site and make sure it is healing well before giving the patient clearance to resume normal activities.
If a patient is not sure about whether a dental implant will be desired, it may be worthwhile to consider socket preservation. While it can add to the cost of an extraction procedure, it helps patients keep options open. It can also prevent complications like damage to the neighboring teeth as the jaw bone breaks down in response to an extraction.