The bisphosphonate therapy, which is used to treat osteoporosis, has been linked with a small risk of osteonecrosis, a rare condition that can cause severe damage to the jaw bone.
However, a new study has revealed that those taking the drug know very little about it.
Although 84 percent of participants claimed they knew why they were receiving the bisphosphonate therapy, 80 percent said they were unsure about the duration of therapy. A further 82 percent could not recall if they had been told about the risk of experiencing adverse reactions, including oral osteonecrosis, by their physicians.
Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, said: “All patients being treated for cancer and osteoporosis should have a dental check–up and any necessary corrective work before the bisphosphonate treatment is underway.
“During bisphosphonate treatment patients should maintain good oral hygiene, receive routine dental check–ups and report any oral symptoms.”
Osteonecrosis may occur when the bone in the jaw is exposed through damaged tissue in the gums that fails to heal or through dental surgery such as a tooth extraction. The development of these lesions is most frequent after invasive dental procedures, such as extractions.
There may be no symptoms for weeks or months, until lesions with exposed bone appear. This damaged tissue usually occurs more often in the lower jaw rather than the upper jaw.
Previous studies suggest that between three and 12 percent of patients who receive bisphosphonates intravenously for cancer therapy and less than one percent for patients who receive bisphosphonates orally for osteoporosis go on to develop osteonecrosis.
Nevertheless, Dr Carter maintained that with such severe dangers attached to the therapy patients need to understand the possible dangers.
“It’s all about developing more effective levels of communication between the doctors who prescribe bisphosphonates, dentists and patients,” added Dr Carter.
“The results of this study show a lack of understanding about the therapy and therefore more must be done to remedy this. Dentists should be prepared to educate patients about the risks of developing oral complications as a result of bisphosphonate therapy.
“However, it is also up to the patients themselves to inform their dentist as to any changes in their health and medications. Once the dentist has all the necessary information then the right steps towards the correct and appropriate dental care can be taken.”
From June 2008 through April 2009, people seeking routine care in a dental clinic and who were being treated with bisphosphonates were invited to participate in the study.
The participants were asked questions involving knowledge about the medical indications related to their taking bisphosphonates, the duration of their therapy and whether they had been educated about possible adverse reactions.
The results which suggested a lack of knowledge about the effects of the drug therapy lead the researchers to begin asking questions about the possibility of the discontinuation of bisphosphonate therapy.
The study was published in the May issue of The Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA).
Anyone needing information or advice about dental procedures or any other guidance around oral health, contact the National Dental Helpline on 0845 063 1188.
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The National Dental Helpline, which offers free impartial advice to consumers, can be contacted on 0845 063 1188 between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday.
The British Dental Health Foundation is the UK’s leading oral health charity, with a 30–year track record of providing public information and influencing government policy. It maintains a free consumer advice service, an impartial and objective product accreditation scheme, publishes and distributes a wide range of literature for the profession and consumers, and runs National Smile Month each May, to promote greater awareness of the benefits of better oral health.
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