Dental X-rays can find osteoporosis

Ordinary dental X-rays could be a low-cost alternative to conventional bone scans for identifying patients at risk of osteoporosis, according to a team of international researchers.

They found that bone mineral density (BMD) measurements calculated from digital dental X-rays were as accurate as those made using dual X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scans.

This means that osteoporosis screening of at-risk patients could be carried out as part of their routine dental check-up.

The study was presented at the 85th General Session of the International Association for Dental Research in New Orleans this week.

It included data from 671 women with an average age of 55 years. The researchers measured their BMD at the femoral neck, total hip and spine using a DXA scan. They took one panoramic and two intra-oral X-rays using dental X-ray equipment.

The standard dental X-rays were processed using computer software that analysed the thickness, fragmentation and the main orientation of the structure of the trabecular bone in the jaw.

The researchers found that a specific combination of these trabecular features could be used to predict the women’s BMD with an accuracy as good as, or slightly better than, the DXA measurements.

Lead researcher Paul van der Stelt, professor of oral and maxillofacial radiology at the Academic Center for Dentistry in Amsterdam, said this process could be used as a cheap method for osteoporosis screening.

‘The main benefit of our procedure is that it is cheap and does not require additional radiation. Because many patients will see their dentist at regular intervals, the data can be easily collected.

‘It is a promising method for the identification of patients who could be at risk for osteoporosis. This includes patients who otherwise would not have been identified until they suffered from fractures and other complications of osteoporosis.’

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