A group of British researchers have developed a unique way of detecting osteoporosis with ordinary dental x-rays. Their discovery could greatly simplify identifying high-risk people.
They developed a computer software that automatically measures the thickness of a part of the lower jawbone during routine dental x-rays. If the measure is less than 3mm, a message alerts the dentist identifying the patient as potentially suffering from osteoporosis. The dentist can then refer his or her patient to a specialist for more precise detection tests.
In order to validate their method, the researchers asked 652 women to undergo osteodensitometry or DXA test, the number-one technique used to establish the diagnosis of osteoporosis. This machine measures the bone density in precise points on the body, notably on the hipbone and lumbar spine. They identified 140 women suffering from osteoporosis with this test, while their new method allowed them to identify more than half of these sufferers.
The advantages of this new method reside in the low cost, simplicity and complete automation of the procedure. Armed with this software, every dentist could detect osteoporosis without having to take on additional work. Furthermore, women who are not aware they are at risk of suffering from osteoporosis could benefit from early detection and begin treatment early in the disease. Optimal treatment remains starting a treatment program before the woman actually suffers from a bone fracture.
The researchers are currently working on integrating their software with x-ray equipment. Given the great advantages of this discovery, we can expect the service will one day be available in all dental clinics. Unfortunately, this technique is not yet available in Canada.