Osteonecrosis of the Jaw and the Role of Bisphosphonates: A Critical Review


      Osteonecrosis of the jaw (ONJ), a condition characterized by necrotic exposed bone in the maxillofacial region, has been reported in patients with cancer receiving bisphosphonate therapy, and rarely in patients with postmenopausal osteoporosis or Paget disease of bone receiving such therapy. In the absence of a uniform definition, the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS), the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research (ASBMR), and other groups have established similar diagnostic criteria for bisphosphonate-related ONJ, which is more commonly reported in patients with advanced malignancies with skeletal metastases who receive higher doses, and is more rarely reported in patients with osteoporosis and Paget disease who receive lower doses. However, a critical review of the literature reveals that the etiology of ONJ remains unknown, and to date no direct causal link to bisphosphonates has been established. Despite an increased awareness of ONJ and recent improvements in preventive strategies, patients and physicians alike continue to express concern about the potential risks of bisphosphonate treatment in both oncologic and nononcologic settings. Although much remains to be learned about this condition, including its true incidence in various patient populations, its pathophysiology, and optimal clinical management, evidence to date suggests that the positive benefits of bisphosphonates in patients with malignant bone disease, osteoporosis, or Paget disease outweigh the relatively small risk of ONJ.


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