Osteomyelitis in the head and neck

Acta Otolaryngol. 2007 Feb;127(2):194-205. doi: 10.1080/00016480600818054.


Conclusion: All bones of the facial skeleton and spine are susceptible to osteomyelitis due to various predisposing conditions. Current radiological tools are sufficient to provide adequate diagnosis. Treatment can be conservative resection of the diseased bone with adequate clearance in all cases except in cases of osteomyelitis due to osteoradionecrosis (ORN) where resection has to be more radical.

Objective: In today's antibiotic era, osteomyelitis in the head and neck is a rare occurrence. Dealing with osteomyelitis in head and neck bones is not the same as in other bones of the body due to the nature of the bones, complex anatomy of the region, and esthetics. Our purpose was to analyze the behavior of osteomyelitis in the head and neck bones and its management.

Materials and methods: A total of 84 cases of osteomyelitis in head and neck were reviewed in a 10-year period. Pus for culture, antibiotic sensitivity, and radiology were the main investigations. A medical line of treatment was effective in acute cases. Surgery was opted for in chronic cases.

Results: Mandible, frontal bone, cervical spine, maxilla, temporal bones, and nasal bones were involved, in descending order of frequency, i.e. the mandible was the most common bone affected. Nine patients were diagnosed as having acute osteomyelitis (11%); 75 were diagnosed as having chronic osteomyelitis (89%). Radiation-induced ORN leading to osteomyelitis was the most common cause of osteomyelitis of the mandible (13 of the 32 cases; 41%). Odontogenic infections and chronic sinusitis each gave rise to osteomyelitis in 3 of 10 cases (30%) of the patients with osteomyelitis of the maxilla. Chronic sinusitis was the main cause of frontal bone osteomyelitis in all 20 cases (100%). Tuberculosis (10 of 15 cases; 67%) and malignancy (5 of 15 cases; 33%) were the main predisposing factors in cervical spine osteomyelitis. Malignant external otitis (MEO) with diabetes mellitus was an underlying factor in all four cases of osteomyelitis of the temporal bone. Of the 18 patients with a diagnosis of ORN, the mandible was found to be the most susceptible bone (13 cases; 72%), followed by the maxilla (four cases; 22%) and cervical spine (1 case). Acute osteomyelitis responded to antibiotics. Sequestrectomy was carried out in all chronic cases but in cases of ORN more radical surgery was performed.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cervical Vertebrae / microbiology*
  • Cervical Vertebrae / surgery
  • Chronic Disease
  • Diabetes Complications
  • Drainage
  • Female
  • Focal Infection, Dental / complications
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / complications
  • Osteomyelitis / diagnosis
  • Osteomyelitis / etiology*
  • Osteomyelitis / therapy*
  • Osteoradionecrosis / complications
  • Otitis Externa / complications
  • Otorhinolaryngologic Surgical Procedures
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Rhinosporidiosis / complications
  • Sinusitis / complications
  • Skull / microbiology*
  • Skull / surgery
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Tuberculosis / complications
  • Wounds and Injuries / complications


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents