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Doctor and Patient

Osteoradionecrosis (ORN) Care Program
Information for Dentists and Oral Surgeons

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for ORN Management is Fully Covered by OHIP

Osteoradionecrosis (ORN) Care Program

ORN is a challenging condition to manage with significant effect on patients quality of life. Our care program incorporates the following to optimize patient outcomes:

  • Use of hyperbaric oxygen for active ORN to facilitate bone coverage 

  • Use of peri-procedure hyperbaric oxygen to reduce ORN in patients requiring dental or surgical work

  • Addition and monitoring of PENTOCLO in appropriate at risk patients

  • Routine follow-up of ORN patients 

  • Multidisciplinary care involving dentistry, dental hygiene, oral maxillofacial surgery, ENT surgery, and oncology


Woman receiving dental treatment. Dental clinic. Dental treatment. Dentist at work.jpg

Background on ORN 


Patients diagnosed with head and neck cancers are commonly treated with a combination of radiotherapy and ablative surgery and can often require extensive oral rehabilitation following their cancer treatment. ORN is complication that can occur spontaneously months to years after the radiotherapy treatment of head and neck cancers. It can occurs spontaneously, but an important precipitating factor is post-radiotherapy dental surgery. Additional risk factors suggested to increase the risk of developing ORN include pre-radiotherapy osteotomy or prior tooth extraction, poor oral hygiene, tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption, radiation dose and tumor-to-bone proximity (1).

Although it is always ideal to complete as much dental work as possible before radiotherapy, patients will still frequently require dental extractions or implant placement afterwards. In these patients, recovery can be complicated by ORN and delayed wound healing with negative effects on osseointegration and implant survival.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) to Treat and Reduce the Risk of ORN


HBOT is known to positively affect surgical outcomes in vulnerable tissues as in those affected by radiotherapy. HBOT works to by increasing the oxygen supply in hypoxic tissues leading to fibroblast proliferation and capillary formation which in turn increases tissue vascularity, viability, and healing capacity. On this basis, many protocols support the use of HBOT to treat active ORN and to reduce the risk of ORN during oral procedures. There are two pathways we typically utilize in the ORN patient population:

Active ORN HBOT Pathway - Patients that have developed ORN require a longer hyperbaric treatment course to facilitate healing through bone coverage with mucosa


​Peri-Procedure ORN HBOT Pathway - Patients at high risk of developing ORN who are planned to undergo further dental or surgical interventions undergo a preconditioning pathway to optimize the irradiated tissues and minimize the risk of ORN complications with their procedure(s). *More details below

It is important to note that HBOT therapy in patients at risk of ORN has long lasting effects. The increased tissue vascularity and improved tissue quality achieved through HBOT are long lasting and should not reverse with time. Therefore all future procedures on the affected area will benefit from improved blood supply and tissue strength, thus increasing the success of any future medical procedures in the area along with reducing the risk of developing ORN in the future.

Update on Current Literature 

One of the earlier protocols was by Marx, which through a randomized prospective trial demonstrated that ORN incidence was decreased to 5.4% in the group pretreated with HBOT versus 29.9% in those treated with penicillin alone prior to dental extractions (2).  Since then, retrospective reviews have continued to support the role of HBOT in ORN (3,4) including a more recent prospective study that followed 411 patients over 8 years. This study looked at the complete heal rates in patients undergoing ORN surgery and it found that 92% of the 166 patients in the 20 pre-procedure and 10 post-procedure HBOT arm achieved complete healing (5).

Furthermore, a comprehensive 2016 Cochrane review of 14 trials encompassing a total of 753 patients found that HBOT was associated with a 1.3 odds ratio (95% CI: 1.1-1.6 P=0.003) of achieving mucosal coverage in patients at risk of ORN versus standard care alone and this translated to a number needed to treat of 5 to achieve additional benefit in this patient population (6).


A study that has been cited in dental literature  by Annane et al (7) did not support the use of HBOT for patients at risk of ORN undergoing dental procedures, however this paper has come under heavy scrutiny over methodologic concerns and interpretability of data.

  • Firstly, in this study 68 subjects were enrolled from 12 different hospitals making adherence to one standard of care unachievable.

  • Secondly, HBOT treatment schedules were not provided with one quarter of the treated subjects receiving less than 22 sessions (a subtherapeutic regiment when compared to other studies).

  • Thirdly, looking at the statistical outcomes and confidence intervals it is evident that the study was underpowered making accurate interpretation of the findings difficult.

  • Finally, and most concerningly, was how treatment failure was defined. In this study HBOT failure was defined as the need for debridement surgery.


As per USHMS guidelines, HBOT is to be used as an adjunct therapy in patients at risk of ORN needing dental procedures to improve the odds of tissue healing. This means using it in conjunction with surgical debridement and not trying to replace it. 

Recommendations for HBOT use for ORN Risk Reduction in Oral Procedures


At this time, a formal consensus has not been reached regarding a standard protocol for HBOT in patients undergoing oral procedures who are at risk of ORN and additional data is forthcoming. An ongoing randomized trial “Hyperbaric Oxygen for the Prevention of Osteoradionecrosis (HOPON)” will compare patients receiving oral antibiotics and mouthwashes, with and without the use of 20 pre-procedure and 10 post-procedure HBOT sessions (8).


In the interim, HBOT protocols with 20-30 pre-procedure and 10 post-procedure sessions at 2.4 ATA for 90 minutes should be utilized as an important adjunct treatment in this patient population (9,10). This should always be combined with existing standard of care guidelines that include smoking and alcohol cessation, perioperative antibiotics and chlorhexidine mouthwashes, and appropriate surgical timing.

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