Study links Fosamax to jawbone problems

A new study says more people taking Fosamax (alendronate) might be at risk for developing major problems with their jaws than scientists believed before, according to findings published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association.

The condition is osteonecrosis of the jaw (ONJ)--which some call "jawbone death"--and earlier studies had established a risk in individuals on the intravenous form of Fosamax, when people receive a higher dose of the medication than most people do when taking it in pill form. For those taking the pill form, previous research deemed the risk of ONJ "negligible."

An assistant professor of clinical dentistry at the University of Southern California School of Dentistry in Los Angeles, Dr. Parish Sedghizadeh, began to investigate ONJ after noticing that the clinic there was seeing one to four new cases of ONJ a week, when in the past it had seen only one a year. The study noted a 4 percent higher risk of the condition in patients taking Fosamax compared to those who were not.

Patients who develop ONJ experience soft-tissue swelling, pain and infection, leading to exposed bone, loose teeth and tooth loss.  Previous concerns about the bisphosphonate class of drugs, in which Fosamax falls, have shown an increased risk of abnormal heart rhythms, inflammatory eye problems and unusual thighbone fractures. Other drugs in the class include Actonel, Aredia, Boniva and Zometa.

Merck has reacted by saying the study has numerous flaws, and a month ago, an American Dental Association expert panel said the risk of ONJ "apparently remains low" for individuals on bisphosphonates.  

- read the story at the Washington Post
- find out more at WebMD 
- see what ABC News has to say