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The Nature of Osteomyelitis
The jaw is a structure at the entrance of the mouth whose main purpose is to grasp and manipulate food. The jaw also moves when we chew and speak. The upper jaw is known as the maxilla and the lower jaw is known as the mandible. Both are attached to the rest of the skull by the temporomandibular joint.
Most people understand that the jaw muscles, like other muscles in the body, can become infected. For example, when you get a cut on your finger, it is treated before infection can set in. However, bones (or more specifically the bone marrow) can also become infected. The bone marrow is a flexible tissue found in the interior of bones. A jawbone infection (or osteomyelitis) is typically caused by a particular strain of bacteria known as staphylococcus aureus.
Symptoms and Complications of Osteomyelitis
Some complications of an infection of the jaw are:
In some cases, only the fever and tiredness present themselves without the swelling or bone pain. In these cases the infection is hard to diagnose and certain complications arise. Some complications of an infection of the jaw include:
Causes and Treatment of Osteomyelitis
One of the common ways that osteomyelitis can be caused is by penetrating trauma. Such trauma penetrates the skin and muscle and creates an open wound thus exposing the jawbone to the outside environment. This is different than blunt trauma which may still break bones, but the skin remains unbroken. For example, a bullet would result in penetrating trauma and a bat would result in blunt force trauma. Some common causes of penetrating trauma include: violence against others, auto accidents, slip and falls against sharp objects, sports and work injuries, and product malfunction.
Another common ways in which bacteria can enter the jaw bone are medical malpractice cases where the jaw bone is exposed to the outside environment. In addition, the teeth and gums can become infected during oral surgery and spread to the jawbone. Some of these surgeries include: a tooth extraction, root canal, or wisdom teeth removal. Faulty installation of a prosthesis in the jaw area can also cause an infection. In some cases, individuals receiving intravenous or oral medications for cancer and osteoporosis treatment may develop an infection of the jaw as a side effect.
Initial diagnosis can be done by a doctor or dentist using x-rays. In addition, the dentist can do some blood tests to see whether an infection is present. An alternative to taking x-rays is a CT scan, or multiple x-rays which create a 3D image. An MRI can be used to diagnose any damage or infection of the surrounding jaw muscles. Finally, part of the bone can be removed and tested using a bone biopsy.
The goal in treating a jaw infection is to both get rid of the infection and reduce damage to the bone and surrounding jaw tissue. Traditionally, antibiotics are the first treatment step, typically given intravenously (through the vein) rather than orally. This treatment time is approximately 4 to 6 weeks long. If the patient is not responding to the antibiotics or if some of the tissue or bone has already decayed then surgery may be required. The space left by the damaged bone is often filled with packing material that promotes the growth of new bone or a bone graft.
No Recovery, No Fee
The Law Offices of Kevin J. Dolley takes injury cases on a contingency basis. This means you will only pay attorney's fees if we obtain compensation for you. For a free consultation with a lawyer, call us at (314) 645-4100 or contact us online.