Bisphosphonate osteochemonecrosis (bis-phossy jaw): is this phossy jaw of the 21st century?

J Oral Maxillofac Surg. 2005 May;63(5):682-9. doi: 10.1016/j.joms.2005.01.010.


Purpose: Bisphosphonates are being implicated in a growing number of complications of the jaws. A number of terms are being applied to this phenomenon and perhaps the descriptive term bisphosphonate osteochemonecrosis has the most merit. But the eerie similarity of this 21st century disease process with the 19th century disease known as phossy jaw is striking. As the nomenclature continues to evolve, the term used in this article will be bis-phossy jaw. This article will explore historical and current aspects of these diseases. Although there may be other mitigating factors, such as oral health, chemotherapy history, immune status, Karnofsky performance status, or Kaplan-Feinstein index, bisphosphonates appear to be the necessary component in cases of bis-phossy jaw.

Materials: This is primarily a review article on reported cases of bis-phossy jaw, with historical looks at phossy jaw and osteoradionecrosis. Our laboratory has reviewed 20 suspected cases of bis-phossy jaw and the typical histopathologic features of bis-phossy jaw are presented.

Results: Descriptions of phossy jaw and current bis-phossy jaw cases are remarkably similar. Histopathologic features of bis-phossy jaw showed intact vascular channels, even in areas with acute inflammatory infiltrates and bacterial overgrowth. Non-vital bone fragments with reduced evidence of osteoclastic action were also noted.

Conclusion: Bis-phossy jaw may have more of a bacterial cofactor risk than osteoradionecrosis, and though altered angiogenesis may yet prove to be a factor, avascularity does not appear to be a major cofactor. The historical disease phossy jaw appears to serve as a possible analogous disease for current research and treatment of bis-phossy jaw. Prevention and early identification of patients at risk should be of prime concern.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects
  • Diphosphonates / adverse effects*
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Hyperbaric Oxygenation
  • Jaw Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Jaw Diseases / history
  • Jaw Diseases / therapy
  • Osteoblasts / physiology
  • Osteoclasts / physiology
  • Osteonecrosis / chemically induced*
  • Osteonecrosis / history
  • Osteonecrosis / therapy
  • Osteoradionecrosis / history
  • Osteoradionecrosis / therapy
  • Time Factors


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Diphosphonates