what is a sinus lift

A sinus lift is a common surgical procedure to provide sufficient bone under the maxillary (upper jaw) sinus for dental implant placement.

The sinuses in the upper jaw are air-filled spaces lying next to the nose, above the upper premolar and molar teeth, and below the eye.

The bone inside the sinuses is lined by a thin membrane. This lining is raised or ‘lifted’ in sinus lift procedures to create space for bone and dental implants.

Sinus lifts are performed either before or at the same time as implant placement.

What types of sinus lift procedures are available?

#1. External approach without existing bone.

Grafting material will be added from the cheek side of your sinus to raise the membrane. The dental implant will not normally be placed until the bone has healed, and you will need another surgical procedure for this.

#2. Internal approach with some existing bone.

Your sinus will be raised by gently tapping through the implant preparation site in your mouth. Grafting material might be pushed through the implant preparation site and your dental implant will be placed at the same time.

What grafting materials are used in sinus lift procedures?

Bone grafting materials from yourself, other human, animal, and synthetic sources are available. The graft material creates a scaffold for your own bone to grow into. This process may take 4-12 months.

The most commonly used material used in sinus lifts is called Bio-Oss. This artificial sterilised bone comes from cattle and is treated to make it safe for use in humans.

Additionally, a membrane patch may be placed over the bone graft to protect it.

The most commonly used membrane for sinus lift is Bio-Gide, which is dissolvable. This artificial membrane comes from porcine (pig) origin.

Your surgeon will explain which products they intend to use for your sinus lift.

What are the risks of sinus lift procedures?

#1. Problems that may happen straight away

  • The main risk is that the membrane could puncture or tear (19% chance in external approach and 3.8% chance in internal approach). The surgeon will either stitch the sinus tear or place a patch over it. If the repair is not successful, your surgeon may stop the procedure and give the puncture or tear time to heal.
  • Your dentist can redo the sinus lift when the membrane has healed. Healing usually takes a few months. A healed membrane tends to be thicker and stronger, which means a second attempt at a sinus lift is likely to be successful.
  • Swelling
  • Numbness from local anaesthetic
  • Pain
  • Bleeding. This could include a nose bleed.
  • Your sinuses may feel “full” or “blocked” for some weeks after the surgery
  • Vertigo is rare and temporary

#2.Problems that may happen later

  • Infection (2.9% chance in external approach and 0.8% chance in internal approach)
  • Graft exposure (3%)
  • Facial pain and swelling after 2 to 7 days
  • Severe facial bruising appearing after 1 to 3 days
  • No graft present after maturation phase. The risk of failure is higher in some people, especially in smokers. Your surgeon will tell you if they think your risk of failure is higher than normal (1.9% chance in external approach).
  • Insufficient bone generated for implant placement (1%)

 #3.Problems that are rare, but serious

  • Numbness over the cheek and upper gums and teeth on the side the procedure was performed immediately after surgery. This is usually temporary but, very rarely, can be permanent.
  • A communication between the sinus and mouth.
  • Longer term infection necessitating graft removal.

#4. The above risks can be minimised by

  • Using painkillers to ease discomfort.
  • Not blowing your nose for two weeks after the procedure.
  • Taking menthol inhalations with hot water three times a day for ten days.
  • Using any specified prescribed medications such as antibiotics and decongestants after the procedure.

What will happen if I choose not to have a sinus lift procedure?

Conventional dental implants may not be possible towards the back of the upper jaw. Sinus lift surgery is completely elective and, after considering the possible alternatives (see section 8 below) the decision to proceed is entirely yours.

Your dentist will discuss all the options to replace your missing teeth again including a denture or a bridge, and the option of no tooth replacement, so that you can decide how to proceed.

What alternatives are available?

#1. A shorter implant

  • This requires enough bone to be available without needing a sinus lift.
  • The risk of implant failure increases as the implant length decreases.
  • Multiple short implants might be an alternative.
  • Although the success rates are good, the risk of complications is potentially higher
  • with shorter implants compared with longer implants placed in sinus augmented sites.

#2.Fewer implants which are placed further forward

  • This either replaces fewer teeth on a bridge fixed onto the implants, or replaces teeth on a removable denture that clips onto the implants.
  • The sinus lift is avoided but you may need grafting around the other implant sites.
  • Fewer implants usually mean more biting and chewing forces happen through the implants, which can potentially lead to more frequent complications of both the bridges / dentures, and implants. This can be particularly difficult if you have a heavy bite, or clench or grind your teeth.
  • Angled implants might be placed next to your sinus to avoid a sinus lift and can be restored with removable dentures or fixed bridges in your mouth.
  • These implants have similar survival and success results compared with conventional implants after five years.

#3. Bridges fixed on adjacent teeth

  • This approach includes either gluing directly onto the adjacent tooth / teeth (resin bridges), or filing down the adjacent tooth/teeth for crowns (conventional bridges). The decision is based on the length of the span, the quality of available tooth structure on the adjacent teeth, the bite, and the root canal/pulp status. Usually only one or two teeth can be replaced on a bridge.

#4. Dentures

  • If implants and bridges won’t work for you, your missing teeth can be replaced on a removable denture.
  • Dentures should be removed after eating for cleaning, and should not be worn overnight.

#5. Zygomatic and pterygoid implants

  • These are placed into facial bones that lie behind the upper jaw.
  • They are long and angled so that they enter the mouth for restoration on either removable dentures or fixed bridges.
  • The surgery is more complicated compared with conventional dental implant placement and not all surgeons can provide it.

#6. No tooth replacement

  • If there are sufficient functional teeth in the mouth it might be better to accept the gap.

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