Common Drug Prescribed for Osteoporosis may Increase Risk of Jaw Disease

Oral bisphosphonates, which are generally prescribed for osteoporosis, may raise a person’s chances of developing osteonecrosis of the jaw, according to the Journal of Dental Research.

Osteonecrosis is the death of a bone. Still, the possibility of developing the condition after taking oral bisphosphonates remains low. Also, considering the number of benefits associated with the drug, people who take it to prevent and treat osteoporosis should not stop.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and conducted by researchers from the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research and HealthPartners Research Foundation. The study examined medical records from nearly 600,000 patients and is part of the dental practice-based research, a consortium of participating practices and dental organizations committed to advancing knowledge of dental practice and ways to improve it.

Osteonecrosis of the jaw becomes a problem to treat and stems from a lower flow to the jaw. This opens the possibility for the jaw to be exposed for around six to eight weeks. Many of the reported cases resulted from cancer patients taking bisphosphonates intravenously.

The goal of this study was to try to quantify the risk of developing osteonecrosis for a large population. The effects of bisphosphonates are important because they are taken by almost 5 million Americans.

The paper from the Journal of Dental Research analyzes the medical records of close to 600,000 patients during a 12-year period ending in 2006. The findings included 23 cases of osteonecrosis of the jaw, many of which came from people who were not taking oral bisphosphonates. These people, however, had other risk factors, including cancer, head and neck radiation therapy and osteoporosis.

About 4 percent of these patients, numbering 21,164, were prescribed oral bisphosphonates. Of those patients, only 6 developed osteonecrosis. In other terms, if these patients took oral bisphosphonates, they had a nine times greater risk of suffering the condition.

Despite the data, the increased development of the condition from taking oral bisphosphonates is not accepted as fact. The low number of people who had osteonecrosis reduced the ability to control other risk factors.

Also, this particular condition did not have a diagnosis code on computers before 2007, meaning the researchers are speculating who had osteonecrosis based on other symptoms. They used a computer database to pinpoint the people who fit into that category, then looked over their medical charts. The last part of the search process involved speaking with dentists and oral surgeons.

But since the researchers couldn’t be sure everyone they thought had osteonecrosis actually did, that opens up the possibility for errors.

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