Radiation treatment has saved many cancer patients’ lives, but the long-term effects can be devastating. Osteoradionecrosis (ORN) is one such injury that can occur months or years after radiation treatments are finished. Fortunately, treatments such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy can help minimize and even reverse symptoms of ORN.  

What is osteoradionecrosis (ORN)? 

Osteoradionecrosis of the jaw often occurs months to decades after a patient receives radiation treatments for head and neck cancers. Radiation damage can destroy the jaw bone and areas of the mouth that support the teeth. 

Why does osteoradionecrosis happen and how common is ORN? 

ORN occurs because the radiation a patient received to treat his/her cancer also affected the blood supply to the skin and bones in that area. This can result in the decay of the bone and soft tissue over time.

Although ORN is rare, it can occur in 4-15% of patients who have undergone significant radiation exposure

What are the symptoms of osteoradionecrosis? 

The symptoms of ORN depend on the individual patient. However, symptoms may include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Cavities or tooth decay
  • Pain
  • Difficulty eating
  • Infections of the jaw

If left untreated, ORN can lead to fractures of the jaw.

Can ORN be cured or prevented?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for or prevention of ORN, but there are treatments that can help minimize the effects of the condition. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is one such treatment that can help protect the jaw and prevent it from worsening. This is especially true in cases where a patient may require additional oral or dental surgery. 

What are the treatments for osteoradionecrosis? 

There are several complex surgeries and some medications that may help treat ORN. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is regarded as one of the safest and most commonly used treatments. 

What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) and how can it help treat ORN?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a treatment in which your entire body receives oxygen under pressure. HBOT helps rejuvenate the tissues, gums, and structures of the mouth and jaw by reducing inflammation. In addition, it provides the oxygen necessary to stimulate blood vessel growth to heal the bone and soft tissues in your mouth.

Various literature has been published on HBOT and its success in treating ORN. Even though every case is different, generally speaking, there is about a 40-60% improvement in healing tooth sockets after dental extractions. Adversely, if HBOT is not utilized, there is almost a 4-fold increase in developing a wound after surgery of the radiated jaw.

Typically, treatments are 90 minutes in a comfortable acrylic (see-through) chamber where patients can watch tv and relax. Most patients require 20-30 treatments before a dental/oral procedure and another 10 treatments after the dental/oral procedure. 

If you are suffering from the effects of osteoradionecrosis and would like to consider hyperbaric oxygen therapy, please contact us. We can help you reduce the negative effects of ORN through this treatment. We have locations in the major metropolitan areas of Texas including Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio.