An estimated 500,000 to 600,000 bone grafting procedures are done annually in the United States. Approximately (1/2) of these surgeries involve spinal arthrodesis whereas 35% to 40% are used for general orthopaedic applications. Synthetic bone graft substitutes currently represent only 10% of the bone graft market, but their share is increasing as experience and confidence in their use are accrued. Despite 15 to 20 years of clinical experience with various synthetic substitutes, there have been few welldesigned, controlled clinical trials of these implants. Synthetic bone graft substitutes consist of hydroxyapatite, tricalcium phosphate, calcium sulfate, or a combination of these minerals. Their fabrication technique, crystallinity, pore dimensions, mechanical properties, and resorption rate vary. All synthetic porous substitutes share numerous advantages over autografts and allografts including their unlimited supply, easy sterilization, and storage. However, the degree to which the substitute provides an osteoconductive structural framework or matrix for new bone ingrowth differs among implants. Disadvantages of ceramic implants include brittle handling properties, variable rates of resorption, poor performance in diaphyseal defects, and potentially adverse effects on normal bone remodeling. These inherent weaknesses have refocused their primary use to bone graft extenders and carriers for pharmaceuticals. The composition, histologic features, indications, and clinical experience of several of the synthetic bone graft substitutes approved for orthopaedic use in the United States are reviewed.

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