What is a sinus lift?
It's a surgical procedure which grafts bone to the upper jaw at the position of the molar and premolar teeth. The maxillary sinus membrane is lifted upwards to make space for the additional bone.
The sinus system has several parts but it's the maxillary sinuses which sit closest to our teeth. You might sometimes get a toothache when you have congestion or a bad cold – this is because the pressure on the sinuses transfers to the tooth roots in the upper jaw.
The technical name for this procedure is a “maxillary sinus floor augmentation”, but you may also hear the terms “sinus augmentation” and “sinus graft” used. A specially-trained dental clinician, periodontist or oral surgeon carries out the surgery.
Why might you need this procedure?
A sinus augmentation is usually performed when a patient has insufficient bone in their upper jaw to support a dental implant. Dental implants fuse with the jaw bone in a natural process called osseointegration, but this relies on there being a certain amount of bone present.
You may need sinus lift surgery before getting implants if:
- your jaw bone has previously been damaged, for example from trauma or a difficult extraction;
- a cyst or tumor has been removed from the area;
- you have suffered bone loss as a result of periodontitis;
- your bone has receded because of tooth loss (the socket can lose 40-60% of its bone structure within the first three years);
- you naturally have a large sinus cavity or thin jaw bone.
Not everyone who gets molar or premolar teeth implants will need this surgery. However, it's a fairly common procedure.
What does it involve?
To begin with, your dental surgeon will conduct a consultation to discuss your needs. As part of this, they will take dental x-rays, and perhaps CT scans, to assess the current condition of your jaw and ascertain whether you are a suitable candidate for a sinus procedure.
The grafted bone can be sourced from a number of places:
- Your own body (either from another part of your mouth or another bone – often in the hip or leg)
- Another human (people may donate their bone tissue when they die)
- Cow bone
- A synthetic material such as hydroxyapatite
All of these materials are safe and are processed to ensure they are free from disease.
There are various ways to carry out sinus graft surgery. They all begin with making an incision in the gum to expose the bone underneath.
Most commonly, the dentist cuts a small “window” into the bone and pushes it up to reveal the sinus cavity. The cavity membrane is lifted and the space below is filled with granules of the bone graft material.
Then, the gum tissue is stitched back together.
In the animation below you can see how this works in practice: