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Dental X-Rays Can Aid in Detecting Osteoporosis

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Dental X-Rays Can Aid in Detecting Osteoporosis

Dental X-Rays Can Aid in Detecting Osteoporosis

April 02, 2007
By: Beth Walsh for Dental1

A computer program that analyzes routine dental X-rays can identify patients at risk for osteoporosis, according to researchers at the Academic Center for Dentistry Amsterdam. Findings from a three-year study were presented at the annual meeting of the International Association for Dental Research in March.
Take Action
  • Get your daily calcium and vitamin D
  • Engage in regular weight-bearing activities, such as jogging, aerobics, and weight training.
  • Avoid smoking and excess alcohol.
  • Talk with your doctor about which screening test(s) he or she recommends.

  • Osteoporosis, a disorder in which the bones become increasingly porous and brittle, is a major public health threat for an estimated 44 million Americans, or 55 percent of those over 50. Ten million people in the United States are estimated to already have the disease - and almost 34 million more are estimated to have low bone mass, placing them at increased risk for osteoporosis. One in two women and one in four men over age 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in her/his remaining lifetime.

    The ideal osteoporosis screening tool is dual energy X-ray absorptiometry, also known as a DEXA (or DXA) scan. The recommendation is for all women age 65 or older to have the scan every two years. However, wide-scale screening is challenging because of testing costs and equipment availability.

    As a result, researchers developed a software-based approach to detecting osteoporosis by automatically analyzing specific characteristics of an X-ray of the jaw. They measured the bone thickness of almost 700 women with an average age of 55. An analysis of a small area of the trabecular bone on dental X-rays resulted in similar rates of osteoporosis detection as a DEXA scan.

    Many osteoporosis sufferers do not know that they have the condition until they experience a bone fracture. Meanwhile, the use of dental X-rays as a screening tool is low-cost and poses almost no extra radiation. Image analysis can be automated and does not require much extra work of dentists. Those found to be at a higher risk can be referred for more thorough exams.

    You can prevent osteoporosis by adopting some simple lifestyle changes. Get the daily recommended amounts of calcium and vitamin D. These amounts vary depending on your height, weight and age. Studies show that many women consume less than half of the daily recommended amount of calcium. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Talk to your doctor about your diet and whether you need to consider taking supplements. It is also important to engage in regular weight-bearing exercise. Putting stress on the bone helps build it up. That’s why exercises such as walking, jogging and aerobics can help prevent osteoporosis.

    Try to avoid smoking and excessive alcohol. Smoking can cause bone mineral depletion and while studies suggest that small amounts of alcohol can actually prevent osteoporosis, too much alcohol can be damaging to the body. Further, 10 percent of all falls in the home are attributed to excess alcohol consumption. Talk to your healthcare provider about bone health and whether you need to have a bone density test.

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