If you have osteoporosis, one of the drugs you may be taking is alendronate, more commonly known by the brand name Fosamax®. Alendronate is a member of the bisphosphonate drug family, which inhibit bone resorption (the loss of bone mass). While an effective treatment of osteoporosis, alendronate may cause an opposite side effect in other areas of the body, the inhibition of new bone growth. This effect on the jaw in particular could result in an adverse reaction after dental surgery.
The main concern is a condition called osteonecrosis, or literally “bone death.” Bone tissue normally goes through a cycle of resorption (the dissolving of bone tissue) and new growth to replace the cells that have been lost through resorption. Osteonecrosis disrupts the growth phase so that the bone doesn’t recover properly after resorption. This results in the bone becoming weaker and less dense.
There have been a number of cases of increased osteonecrosis in patients on alendronate after experiencing trauma to the mouth. This includes dental surgery, particularly tooth extractions. In addition, patients with certain risk factors like diabetes, tobacco use or corticosteroid therapy appear more vulnerable to osteonecrosis.
Although the risk of osteonecrosis after dental surgery is small, many dentists recommend stopping the use of alendronate for three months before the procedure if you’ve been taking the drug for more than three years. This recommendation is based on a number of studies that seem to indicate three or more years of bisphosphonates therapy makes patients especially vulnerable to osteonecrosis. These studies also indicate stopping the therapy for three months significantly reduces the risk of developing the condition.
There’s still much to be learned about this link between alendronate therapy and dental health. It’s a good idea, then, to let us know what medications you’re taking (especially bisphosphonates) whenever you visit us for an exam. Knowing all your medications will help us develop the safest and most effective treatment plan for your dental care.
If you would like more information on bisphosphonates and their effect on oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Fosamax and Surgery.”
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