Fosamax (alendronate) is a medication intended to prevent and treat osteoporosis and related bone diseases. Although use of Fosamax can help strengthen patients’ bones and reduce their susceptibility to fractures, this medication also has a number of side effects, the most serious of which is osteonecrosis of the jaw (ONJ).

What is Osteonecrosis of the Jaw?

Also referred to as “dead jaw,” osteonecrosis of the jaw is a severe bone condition in which lack of blood flow causes the jawbones’ tissue to deteriorate. While initial tissue death may only be temporary, a prolonged absence of adequate blood supply can eventually lead to the collapse of the jawbones.

Keep in mind that osteonecrosis can affect most major joints in the body – the knees, hips or shoulders, for example, can also suffer from osteonecrosis.

In fact, each year about 10,000 to 20,000 people are newly diagnosed with osteonecrosis, usually as a result of an injury, such as a bone fracture or a dislocated joint. However, osteonecrosis of the jaw is the only type of osteonecrosis that is a direct side effect of taking Fosamax.

Symptoms of Osteonecrosis of the Jaw

In most cases, it can take up to several months for the symptoms of osteonecrosis of the jaw to present themselves. When symptoms finally start developing, they generally accelerate in severity after a patient has undergone dental work, especially a tooth extraction. Common symptoms of ONJ include:

  • a loosening of the teeth
  • inflammation of the jaw and/or gums
  • numbness or decreased sensitivity of the gums
  • oral infections
  • pain in the jaw and/or gums (Many ONJ patients describe this pain as being similar to the pain associated with arthritis.)
  • significant loss of gum tissues
  • visible jawbone (usually due to receding gum tissues)

Anyone experiencing any combination of the above symptoms should see a doctor immediately, especially if the person has a history of using Fosamax or another bisphosphonate medication. If left untreated, osteonecrosis of the jaw can cause permanent death of jaw tissues and, eventually, permanent collapse of the jawbone.

Treating Osteonecrosis of the Jaw

Unfortunately, there is no cure for osteonecrosis of the jaw. Instead, treatments involve minimizing ONJ symptoms and preventing this bone disease from progressing. Possible osteonecrosis treatments include:

  • antibiotics to treat and prevent the oral infections associated with ONJ
  • oral implants to protect visible areas of jawbone (these devices are usually removable.)
  • surgery to excise diseased jaw tissues (surgery has serious risks and can permanently disable patients, making them unable to ever chew food again. As a result, surgery is generally only an option in the most severe cases of ONJ.)

Fosamax/ONJ Lawsuits

If you or a loved one has developed osteonecrosis of the jaw and has a history of taking Fosamax (or a similar bisphosphonate medication), contact us to discuss your case today. You may be entitled to money for your losses.

Published November 17, 2011 by