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The phosphorous necrosis of the jaws and what can we learn from the past: a comparison of “phossy” and “bisphossy” jaw



The osteopathology of the jaws associated with bone resorption inhibitors is a current topic that engages a variety of clinical specialists. This has increased after the approval of denosumab for treatment of osteoporosis and skeletal-related events in patients with solid malignancy. Early after the first publications, there is a possible connection between phosphorous necrosis of the jaws, a dreadful industrial disease mentioned, and bisphosphonate-induced pathology. The nineteenth century was the prime time for phosphorus necrosis of match factory workers.


This occurrence provides an interesting insight into the medical and surgical profession in the nineteenth century. There are striking parallels and repetition of current and old ideas in the approach to this “new disease.” There are similar examples in case descriptions when compared with today’s patients of bisphosphonate-related osteonecrosis of the jaws (BRONJ).


Phosphorus necrosis was first described in Austria. Soon after this, surgeons in German-speaking countries including well-known clinicians Wegner (1872) and von Schulthess-Rechberg (1879) pioneered the analysis, preventative measures, and treatment of this disease. The tendency at this time was to approach BRONJ as a “special kind of osteomyelitis” in pretreated and metabolically different bone. Not only the treatment strategy to wait until sequestrum formation with subsequent removal and preventative measures but also the idea of focusing on the periosteum as the triggering anatomical structure may have been adopted from specialists in the nineteenth century. Therefore, phosphorous necrosis of the jaw is an excellent example of “learning from the past.”

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Jacobsen, C., Zemann, W., Obwegeser, J.A. et al. The phosphorous necrosis of the jaws and what can we learn from the past: a comparison of “phossy” and “bisphossy” jaw. Oral Maxillofac Surg 18, 31–37 (2014).

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  • Phosphorous necrosis
  • Sequestrum
  • Infection
  • Bone resorption inhibitors
  • Periosteum