Newswise — 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.
The best treatment is prevention. Harvard Women's Health Watch suggests that you get a dental exam and consider having any extractions or implants done before you start a bisphosphonate. If you're already taking one, let your dentist know so that it can be considered in planning your treatment. You may also want to ask about taking a break from bisphosphonate therapy before undergoing major dental work.
For now, the benefits of bisphosphonates far outweigh the risks. But we still don't know much about their long-term effects. So be sure you are taking a bisphosphonate for the right reason and at the right dose.
Also in this issue:"¢ How do I know if I'm fit?"¢ Chronic aching and stiffness: Polymyalgia rheumatica"¢ Recognizing domestic abuse
Harvard Women's Health Watch is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $24 per year. Subscribe at www.health.harvard.edu/women or by calling 1-877-649-9457 (toll free).