Why Do I Need a Sinus Lift?

Many people who choose to replace a missing upper molar with a dental implant hear that they need an additional procedure called a sinus lift.  In this week’s article, we will explain what a sinus lift is and why many people require it in order to replace a missing upper tooth.

What is a Sinus Lift?

Let’s start with an anatomy lesson.  The human skull has many hollow spaces, or air pockets, called sinuses.  These air spaces help to reduce the weight of the skull and manage airflow during breathing.  The largest sinuses we have are the maxillary sinuses, which are just behind the cheekbones and just above the upper back teeth.

The “floor” or lower border of the sinus cavities rest directly on top of the upper jawbone, separated only by a very thin, delicate tissue membrane.  In many cases, the roots of the upper molars protrude upward into the sinuses (see x-ray).

When someone loses an upper molar, it is common for the maxillary sinus cavity in that region to grow downward into the upper jaw where that tooth was.  Then when it is time to replace that missing tooth with a dental implant, there is not enough vertical height of bone.

A sinus lift does just what the name implies: this procedure lifts the floor of the sinuses to make room for a dental implant.

What does a Sinus Lift Feel Like?

Usually, your dentist will perform the sinus lift immediately before placing a dental implant into the upper jawbone.  This is because the implant acts as a “plug” to hold up the floor of the sinus, which at this point consists of a thin layer of bone and that delicate membrane.

In many cases, because the patient is numb in the surgical site, it is possible to not really know what is going on inside the mouth.  With a sinus lift, that is usually not the case.  It is hard to miss the feeling of a sinus lift, even when your mouth is numb.

Your dentist may describe it as a tapping sensation.  While it is not painful at all, it is definitely an unusual feeling.  Your dentist uses a small mallet to tap on the remaining sliver of upper jawbone in order to slowly lift it and the delicate membrane over it in increments of half-millimeters.  If you are awake during the surgery (with no sedation), you will not feel any pain, but you will hear and feel the tapping inside your skull.

How Long is the Recovery from a Sinus Lift?

The good news is that because your dentist performs the sinus lift at the same time as the dental implant placement, the recovery periods coincide, and it does not take longer for healing.  The lift itself may cause some inflammation in the sinus cavity, and this could create some sinus-like symptoms, including congestion, headache, runny nose, and sneezing.

Most people describe the post-operative pain levels as moderate and manageable with over-the-counter pain relievers.  The most common complaint is pressure around the surgery site, both in the jaw and the above sinus cavity.

What if I Do Not get a Sinus Lift?

The purpose of a sinus lift is to lift the floor of the sinus cavity in order to provide more vertical height for a dental implant.  The majority of a dental implant’s strength for chewing function comes from its length.  Without a sinus lift, your dentist might have to place a dental implant that is relatively short into the jawbone.  The shorter length decreases the long-term success rate and impairs the implant’s ability to withstand chewing forces.

In contrast, the sinus lift enables your dentist to place an implant of the appropriate length for great long-term function.

More Questions about Sinus Lifts?

Call Timberlake Dental at 940-382-1750 to schedule an implant consultation.  Dr. Chowning can answer any implant or sinus lift question you have and assess your specific situation.