Understanding Osteonecrosis of the Jaw

Understanding Osteonecrosis of the Jaw

Have you ever heard of osteonecrosis of the jaw? If not, we aren’t surprised, as this is a fairly rare condition. However, if you do hear your dentist talk about ONJ, you’ll want to have some background information to know what to expect.


Osteonecrosis of the jaw, or ONJ, is a condition in which the jaw bone is exposed and begins to starve as a result of blood loss. A portion of the jawbone isn’t covered by the gums, and since it isn’t receiving blood, it will start to die.

Most cases of ONJ develop after you have a surgical dental procedure, such as an extraction. Less commonly it may occur spontaneously over the bony growths inside of your mouth. However, to be considered ONJ, the condition will need to last for at least eight weeks.


ONJ can develop if you are taking certain medications. These are classified as bisphosphonates, and ONJ can develop after taking the medication for as little as a year. The longer that you take these drugs, the greater your risk will be, but most cases of ONJ occur after using the medication for longer than five years.

Certain medical conditions can also increase your risk for developing ONJ. Cancer patients have an especially high risk. Other risk factors include diabetes, smoking, gum disease, the use of steroids, and advanced age.


If your dentist notices exposed bone, diagnosing ONJ is relatively simple. You can be treated with antibiotics, pain medications, or rinses. In other cases, bone and soft tissue grafting may be required, but the exact treatment method used will depend on your situation.

If you suspect that you might have ONJ, contact us for an evaluation and to find out what treatment options are available.

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