October 20th is World Osteoporosis Day, putting the spotlight on this degenerative bone condition and the impact it has on millions of people. Not only does it significantly increase the risk of potentially life-threatening fractures, but it can also indirectly affect dental health.
This connection arises from the use of certain treatment drugs that ultimately could lead to complications following some forms of dental work. These particular drugs, mainly bisphosphonates like Fosamax™ and RANKL inhibitors like Prolia™, destroy bone cells called osteoclasts, whose function is to clear away worn out regular bone cells (osteoblasts). With fewer osteoclasts targeting them, more older osteoblast cells survive longer.
In the short-term, a longer life for these older cells helps bones afflicted by osteoporosis to retain volume and density, and are thus less likely to fracture. Long-term, however, the surviving osteoblasts are less elastic and more brittle than newly formed cells.
In the end, these longer living cells could eventually weaken the bone. In rare situations, this can result in parts of the bone actually dying—a condition known as osteonecrosis. The bones of the body with the highest occurrences of osteonecrosis are the femur (the upper leg bone) and, of specific concern to dental care, the jawbone.
The effect of these medications on the jawbone actually has a name—drug-induced osteonecrosis of the jaw (DIONJ). Fortunately, there's only a 1% risk of it occurring if you're taking these drugs to manage osteoporosis. It's also not a concern for routine procedures like cleanings, fillings or crown placements. But DIONJ could lead to complications with more invasive dental work like tooth extraction, implant placement or periodontal surgery.
It's important, then, that your dentist knows if you're being treated for osteoporosis and the specific drugs you're taking. Depending on the medication, they may suggest, in coordination with your physician, that you take a "drug holiday"—go off of the drug for a set period of time—before a scheduled dental procedure to ease the risk and effects of osteonecrosis.
Because infection after dental work is one possible consequence of osteonecrosis, it's important that you practice thorough oral hygiene every day. Your dentist may also prescribe an antiseptic mouth rinse to include with your hygiene, as well as antibiotics.
You may also want to talk to your doctor about alternative treatments for osteoporosis that pose a lower risk for osteonecrosis. These can range from traditional Vitamin D and calcium supplements to emerging treatments that utilize hormones.
Osteoporosis can complicate dental work, but it doesn't have to prevent you from getting the procedures you need. Working with both your dentist and your physician, you can have the procedures you need to maintain your dental health.
If you would like more information about osteoporosis and dental care, please contact us or schedule a consultation.