Preventative measures can reduce jawbone risk from osteoporosis drugs

BOSTON, MA — Media reports on a connection between certain bone-strengthening drugs and the death of bone tissue in the jaw have raised concerns for many women, notes the September issue of Harvard Women's Health Watch. Most cases of the bone problem, called osteonecrosis, have occurred among cancer patients taking potent intravenous forms of these drugs, but a handful have involved otherwise healthy women taking oral medications to prevent or treat osteoporosis.

The drugs, known as bisphosphonates, include Fosamax, Actonel, Boniva, Skelid, Didronel, Zometa, Aredia, and Bonefos. They are widely prescribed for osteoporosis and are also used to treat bone pain and other complications in cancer patients. Bisphosphonates increase bone density in the short run, but in the long run they may impair new bone formation. Scientists think this may reduce the jawbone's capacity to heal after traumas such as dental extractions or implants.

Investigations into the extent of the problem are ongoing. Anyone taking bisphosphonates should be aware of the symptoms, which include pain, swelling, and numbness at the site of a tooth extraction or other oral surgery.

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