How I first knew about phossy jaw?

I hope from this blog onwards I can use the term BONJ without stating its full name. (Can I?) For those who need further explanation, please click “BONJ” at the colourful “Keywords” on the right hand side and this will lead you to my previous blog entries.

I have had lectures on BONJ, the modern disease, when I had my dentist training in Hong Kong, where I come from. But I never knew that there was a similar disease to BONJ in Victoria times (phosphorus necrosis/phossy jaw) until I had my master course at UCL. The lecture was given by Dr Stefano Fedele, Senior Lecturer of the Eastman Dental Institute, now my PhD supervisor. He told the class that there are a few phossy jaw specimens at the Hunterian Museum.

One of the specimens was from a 35-year-old male match worker and his phossy jaw caused fracture of his lower jaw. Though not mentioned, I suspect the match worker died from the jaw disease as the mortality rate was high before the invention of antibiotics in the 20th Century. In a study in France in 1858, more than half of the 60 cases died. Some committed suicide due to severe pain and facial disfigurement.

Although the death rate now is not as high as before, some BONJ cases can, sadly, still progress to a very severe stage. The radiograph below belonged to a 71-year-old male who received bisphosphonates intravenously for bone cancer and his BONJ caused fracture of his jaw (circled), as with phossy jaw.

One of the reasons why I am interested in studying BONJ is its old disease and I do hope other researchers can also get some inspiration from the history of the topics they are investigating.

Note: The Hunterian Museum is closed in Easter, but do plan a visit there in future. It is an amazing place and is just a 5-minute walk from the Holborn tube station.

Have a happy holiday!


  • Hunterian Museum, The Royal College of Surgeons of England.
  • Miles, A E. 1972. “Phosphorus Necrosis of the Jaw: ‘Phossy Jaw’.” British Dental Journal 133 (5) (September): 203–206.
  • Statz, Thomas A, Janet M Guthmiller, Lewis A Humbert, and Georgia K Johnson. 2007. “Intravenous Bisphosphonate-associated Osteonecrosis of the Jaw.” Journal of Periodontology 78 (11) (November): 2203–2208.
This entry was posted in Past disease. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to How I first knew about phossy jaw?

  1. pastmortems says:

    Interesting that you’re studying this – we have several specimens @BartsPathology Museum in London and I recently gave a presentation about BIONJ being a similar, modern-day analogue! (Carla Valentine

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s