Objective: To review the risk of osteonecrosis of the jaw associated with bisphosphonates.
Data sources: A MEDLINE search (1966-January 2007) and a search of International Pharmaceutical Abstracts (1970-January 2007) were conducted to identify relevant literature. Additional references were reviewed from selected articles.
Study selection and data extraction: Articles related to bisphosphonate-induced osteonecrosis of the jaw were reviewed and summarized. Inclusion criteria required that articles be either case studies or case series that were reporting actual cases linking osteonecrosis of the jaw with bisphosphonate use. Articles that addressed sites of osteonecrosis not involving the jaw, teaching cases (fictitious patients), and a retrospective claims analysis paper were excluded from consideration.
Data synthesis: Bisphosphonates have recently been linked to osteonecrosis of the jaw, with the greatest incidence seen with the intravenous preparations zoledronic acid and pamidronate. Osteonecrosis refers to death of a part of the bone, resulting in decreased bone density. Although the majority of occurrences have been associated with the intravenous bisphosphonates, oral bisphosphonates have also been implicated. Other risk factors noted from reported cases include dental extraction or trauma to the jaw exposing part of the bone. It is difficult to determine an exact incidence of osteonecrosis of the jaw in the general population of patients prescribed bisphosphonates; however, the incidence in cancer patients is approximately 6-7%.
Conclusions: Although discontinuation of intravenous bisphosphonates in cancer patients has been recommended, stopping oral bisphosphonates prior to dental work cannot be universally endorsed at this time, since it is unknown whether this is effective in reducing the risk of osteonecrosis of the jaw. Treatment of this condition is not well established; therefore, efforts should be directed toward prevention. Pharmacists may further counsel patients to practice good oral hygiene and regularly follow up with their dentist during therapy. Current evidence suggests limited surgical debridement with systemic and local antibiotics as treatments.