Being told you need a sinus lift before getting tooth implants may seem daunting, but there is no need to worry. It's a relatively common surgical procedure that can make it possible for you to restore your smile with implants even after suffering bone loss.
Here you can read all about what sinus surgery involves, what it costs in the UK, and what to expect afterwards. Don't miss our tips for reducing the cost of the procedure – it's possible to save hundreds if you know how!
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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 tumour 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 filled with granules of the bone graft material.
Then, the gum tissue is stitched back together.
In the video below a doctor explains more about how this works:
The technique your dentist uses may be different, depending on your personal circumstances. Be sure to discuss this if you have any concerns.
The main risk of this surgery is the piercing or tearing of the membrane. In the rare event that this happens, it can be stitched or patched to repair it. Often the surgery can still continue as planned; in other cases the membrane must be given time to heal before the lift takes place.
Immediately after your surgery you may experience swelling in the area and bleeding from your mouth or nose. You'll probably feel uncomfortable for a few days afterwards but most patients don't experience major discomfort. If any bleeding continues for more than two days, or pain and swelling get worse, you should contact your dentist immediately.
There is a risk of the sinuses becoming infected but your dentist will give you medication to protect against this. You'll have to be careful not to sneeze or blow your nose heavily since this can move the bone graft material or dislodge your stitches. If you are prone to allergies, your surgery will probably be scheduled for a time of year when these won't flare up.
After 7-10 days you'll return to your dentist so he can check the progress of your healing and remove your stitches, if they haven't dissolved by themselves. You'll have several more visits during the healing process to check everything is going as planned.
Placing the implants
Most often patients must wait 4-9 months before they receive their implants. This gives the bone a chance to fuse in its new position. The exact waiting time will depend on the type of material used.
It is possible in some cases to place the implants as part of the sinus surgery – without any waiting period. One study has shown that although this method is quite safe, the success rate is lower in patients who have a residual bone height of less than 4mm.
You might be keen to get your implants placed sooner rather than later, but your dentist will advise you on the method that is likely to achieve the best results.
How much does a sinus lift cost?
Dentists charge anywhere from around £600 to £3,000 in the UK. These costs are per side, and may be higher depending on how complex the work is and how much bone graft material is required. If you have already received a quote for implants, check whether this includes any preparatory work like bone grafts and sinus surgery.
Dental implants are usually not available on the NHS in the UK, and the same goes for any preparatory surgery. So, if you're paying privately for your implants, you'll have to pay privately for your sinus graft too.
Ways to save money on sinus surgery
Getting teeth implants is costly enough without having to fork out hundreds or thousands of pounds just to prepare your mouth for them. Fortunately, there are ways you can save money on your sinus lift procedure costs.
Firstly, enquire about prices with several different dental clinics in your area. Not every dentist has the specialist training to perform this procedure, but among those that do, you might find quite a variance in price.
Secondly, consider getting your sinus augmentation treatment abroad (and even your implants, too!). The cost of oral surgery in countries like Hungary and Turkey is much lower than in the UK but clinics are subject to the same high standards. They are also cheap to reach with a low-cost airline.
Below is a table showing average sinus lift costs in different countries:
|UK||£800 - £2,500|
|Hungary||£350 - £500|
|Poland||£500 - £650|
|Thailand||£500 - £600|
|Mexico||£450 - £600|
If you need sinus lift surgery for implants, read our other tips for saving money on dental implants.