Potential alteration of the underlying recipient bone resulting from a graft or implant has significant clinical relevance. The present study was designed to evaluate the biomechanical and histologic alteration of facial recipient bone with autogenous bone graft and alloplastic implants over a 1- year period. The bilateral arches of 15 rabbits were randomized between four groups: (1) control (n = 6), subperiosteal exposure of the zygomatic arch was made; (2) onlay (n = 12), bone graft was placed as an onlay to the zygomatic arch; (3) inlay (n = 6), bone graft was placed as an inlay within the zygomatic arch; (4) implant (n = 6), a stainless steel plate was placed as an onlay to the zygomatic arch. Animals were killed 1 year after grafting. In the onlay groups, all steel implants and half of the onlay bone grafts (n = 6) were separated from the zygomatic arch; the remaining onlay bone grafts (n = 6) were left on the zygomatic arch. Three-point breaking strength was measured through the center of the graft/implant site on the zygomatic arch, followed by histologic evaluation and histometric assessment of residual bone density. The findings demonstrated no difference in the breaking strength per unit bone area between the control zygomatic arch group and the onlay group in which the bone graft was left in place. Breaking strength of the zygomatic arch in the former two groups was significantly greater than that in either group in which the onlay bone graft or implant had been removed, and was also greater than the breaking strength in that group in which inlay bone had been placed (p < 0.05). Histologic assessment showed full-thickness conversion in architecture of the zygomatic arch from compact to woven bone beneath onlays of either autogenous bone graft or steel implant; histometric assessment demonstrated an accompanying decrease in bone density in the latter groups relative to the control zygoma (p < 0.05). We conclude that onlay autogenous bone graft and alloplastic implants to the facial skeleton induce transformation of both graft and recipient bone from compact to woven architecture, accompanied by a reduction in bone density. The biomechanical strength of recipient facial bone is significantly weakened if an onlay bone graft or implant is removed. Weakening occurs per unit area of remaining bone, and is therefore independent of any thinning that may occur within the recipient bone because of graft/implant placement. These findings may impact upon decisions to augment stress-bearing regions of the facial skeleton with bone graft or implants, particularly if the graft/implant may eventually require removal.
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