Meds For Osteoporosis Can Cause Severe Damage To Jaw Bone

Posted on Mar 06, 2017 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

It seems every time I turn on the television, I see a commercial touting some new ‘wonder drug.’ Typically, I’m blown away when the list of potential side effects are mentioned. Apparently, many of these drugs solve one problem only to create ten more. This brings to mind a concern for those who are taking drugs for osteoporosis.

As we age, so does the structure of our bones. After the age of 40, adults begin to lose bone as the body’s ability to build up bone tissues decreases. Adults who have the most risk for bone loss include:

• Females
• Being over the age of 65
• Women who are going through menopause or are post-menopausal
• Being small in statue or having low body weight
• Using tobacco and excessive alcohol use
• Having a family history of fractures associated with osteoporosis
• Seventy percent of people with osteoporosis are women. Because men lose calcium at a slower rate than women, their risk is lower. However, older men are also at risk for osteoporosis.
• Osteoporosis is also more common in people who have a small body frame and bone structure. Low body weight also contributes to osteoporosis risk.
• Calcium and vitamin D deficiencies are risk factors for both males and females.

Osteoporosis literally means ‘porous bone’ and occurs when bones become weak and fragile. People who have osteoporosis are at greater risk for fracturing their bones, especially in the hip, vertebrae (spine) and wrist.

For an aging adult, the dreaded risk of breaking a hip is one reason many consider taking osteoporosis medications. Hip fractures often require hospitalization, surgical procedures, and can require lengthy healing periods. Some never fully recover after a hip fracture.

Among the aging, these fractures are a common cause of disability and death, especially in post-menopausal women. Only 40% of hip fracture patients ever regain their independence and nearly 25% die within a year. Vertebral fractures can cause debilitating back pain, and they, too, increase the risk of premature death. (see interesting information at:

Bisphosphonates have emerged as the leading medication for preventing and treating osteoporosis. Studies show these drugs are effective and safe for up to 5 years. Eventually, however, bone loss continues with bisphosphonates.

So, what does this have to do with your dental health? Keep in mind that the teeth, their roots and the bones that support them are bone. Add to that the fact that many people are often surprised by the wide range of medications that affect their oral health.

Some medications – including prescription, over-the-counter and even herbal supplements – can cause complications during oral surgeries like extractions or dental implant placement. While drugs such as Coumadin, a commonly-prescribed blood thinner, may cause more bleeding during oral procedures, certain drugs create a much greater risk. pillbottle

The complication with bisphosphonates, often prescribed to treat osteoporosis, is a risk for jaw osteonecrosis. In simple terms, this is death of the jaw bone. Jaw osteonecrosis occurs when the bone fails to heal after a surgery, even a minor procedure such as a tooth extraction. The risk for jaw necrosis is highest with procedures that directly expose the jaw bone, such as tooth extractions and other oral surgery.

Osteonecrosis results from obstruction of blood supply from the drug’s potential interference with the bone’s ability to repair itself. Initially, it causes pain, swelling or infection of the gums and jaw. It also prevents gum tissues from healing and can lead to tooth loss. Its onset, however, can occur without obvious symptoms.

Trade names of the most prescribed bisphosphonates are Fosamax, Actonel, Boniva, Reclast, Binosto, Prolia, Zometa and Xgeva. The most prescribed, Fosamax, is one of the top 25 most prescribed drugs on the drug market today. Approved by the FDA in 1995, reports began surfacing in 2003 that linked Fosamax with jaw osteonecrosis.

Jaw osteonecrosis risk seems to increase with the amount of time the medications are taken. However, researchers have determined that bisphosphonates can create a risk for necrosis with even short-term use.

In a study of 208 participants who took Fosamax for varying durations, 4% developed osteonecrosis. Not only did the study show that short-term usage can place the patient at risk, the drug can maintain a 10-year ‘half-life’ in bone tissue. This finding was in contrast to the drug makers’ claims that bisphosphonate use only posed a noticeable risk for those who took the medication intravenously, such as in treating cancer patients.

Although the drug makers of bisphosphonates claim a low risk to any adverse reactions, prescribing physicians have often failed to warn patients of actual risks when having dental procedures. This is why it is important to make us aware of all the drugs you take, including over-the-counter types.

Our goal is to provide you with a successful outcome for every procedure. If you have questions regarding the medications you are taking in regard to oral risks, call our office at 828-274-9440.

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