By: Anthony H. Gair, Esq.
This New York malpractice case involved a fifty-three year old man who was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of the mouth encompassing the soft palate, the uvula, the tonsil and the base of the tongue. He underwent extensive radiation therapy and fortunately the cancer was irradicated. The patient developed osteoradionecrosis of the mandible following a wisdom tooth extraction by his dentist who was well aware that he had undergone radiation therapy.
As a result, he had to have three major surgeries involving removal of part of the mandible and extensive bone grafting and reconstructive surgery.
The definition of osteoradionecrosis is bone death due to radiation. Teeth removed in irradiated jaws often initiate Osteoradionecrosis.¹
In patients who have undergone radiation therapy for cancer of the mouth, the tissues in the mouth become hypoxic. Further, the vascular supply to the tissues is impaired and blood vessels are destroyed as a result of the radiation. The tissues also become hypocellular. These effects on the tissues of the mouth are permanent.
The important issues in the development of Osteoradionecrosis are endothelium, bone, periosteum and fibrous connective tissue of the mucosa and skin. The effects of radiation on the tissue level are endothelial necrosis, hyalinization, and thrombosis of vessels. The periosteum becomes fibrotic and bone osteoblasts and osteocytes undergo death with fibrosis of the marrow spaces. Mucosa and skin also undergo fibrosis, with decline in the cellularity and vascularity of the connective tissue. The result is a composite tissue which is hypovascular and hypocellular and has proved to be hypoxic compared with non-irradiated tissue. Once any wound is created, it would be unrealistic to expect effective healing, given the hypovascular, hypocellular and hypoxic nature of the affected tissue.²
It was the plaintiff’s contention that when a tooth is extracted a wound is always created at the site of extraction and that as a result of the radiation induced hypoxia, hypovascularity and hypocellularity of the tissues there will be problems with the healing process which may often lead to infection spreading to the bone and leading to osteoradionecrosis. This is even more so in patients with periodontal disease, which is often the case in those facing tooth extraction.
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