Jawbone infections are normally caused by the bacteria staphylococcus aureus getting into the jawbone. The bacteria can enter the jawbone when you have periodontal disease; a dental procedure where the bone is exposed; an injury to the jawbone; or you are taking certain cancer and osteoporosis drugs.
Jawbone infections are also known as osteomyelitis of the jaw and osteonecrosis of the jaw. Osteomyelitis is a bone infection. Osteonecrosis is what happens if the bone infection is left untreated; the bone dies.
According to the National Library of Medicine, symptoms of osteomyelitis are, “bone pain, fever, general feeling of discomfort, local swelling, redness, warmth and nausea.”
There have been cases where people have not had any pain or swelling, just the fever and tiredness. When this is the case the jawbone infection is very hard to diagnose.
Periodontal disease is an infection of the tooth and the gums that surround it. Sometimes the infection, if left untreated, can enter your jawbone causing a jawbone infection. Periodontal disease is usually best avoided by brushing and flossing every day, getting regular dental checkups and not smoking.
According to the Andrew Taylor Still University of Osteopathic Medicine in Mesa, Arizona, “Infections of the teeth and the gums can spread to contiguous structures; sinusitis and osteomyelitis of the jaw.” You can get a jawbone infection from a tooth extraction, root canal, or wisdom teeth removal where bacteria entered the bone through the surgical site. This occurs due to unclean or shoddy dental practices.
According to an American Dental Association report released in January 2009, “In rare instances, some individuals receiving intravenous (or oral) bisphosphonates (Fosamax, Actonel, Boniva) for osteoporosis and cancer treatment have developed osteonecrosis of the jaw, a rare but serious condition that involves severe loss, or destruction, of the jawbone.” Osteonecrosis, starts with osteomyelitis or a jawbone infection. The ADA recommends that anyone taking these types of medications inform their dentist if they are about to have any dental procedure such as a tooth extraction. The symptoms of this jawbone infection are; pain, swelling, loose teeth, numbness in the jaw, drainage from gums that are not healing and exposed bone.
Your dentist may suspect a jawbone infection by the symptoms you exhibit. According to the ADA, “doctors may use X-rays or test for infection (taking microbial cultures).” Your dentist can do some blood tests to see whether you have any indicators of an infection. He will probably do an X-ray, a CT scan or an MRI to confirm that the jawbone is infected. He can take samples of the blood or pus in the area to see if it is infected. It's a good idea to have a bone biopsy to remove a small section of bone to be sent to a lab to confirm the bacteria.
Antibiotics can usually cure jawbone infections. According to the National Library of Medicine, antibiotics for a jawbone infection should be taken for at least four to six weeks, and sometimes longer. The jawbone is characterized by poor blood flow compared to other bones of the body. Sometimes this hinders the ability of antibiotics to reach the infection site. If antibiotics do not work, your dentist may need to remove the part of the jawbone that is infected. A graft from another bone in your body can generally be placed in your jawbone to replace the bone segment that is removed.