Dentists could detect osteoporosis, finds EU project

A three-year EU-funded project has found that dental X-rays could be used to detect the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis.

The researchers found that by measuring the thickness of part of a patient's lower jaw, using software developed by the team, dentists could easily identify women and men at risk of the disease.

According to the study, osteoporosis affects almost 15% of western women in their 50s, 22% in their 60s and 38.5% in their 070s. In women aged over 80, as many as 70% are at risk. The condition carries a high risk of bone fractures and the risk osteoporotic fractures for men is nearly as high as that for women.

Seizing on the gravity of the 'silent epidemic' of osteoporosis, EU Member States have tried to improve the identification of those at risk. However, the high cost and scarcity of specialist equipment and staff still make widespread screening of the disease unviable.

Professor Keith Horner and Dr Hugh Devlin of Manchester University coordinated the project in collaboration with the universities of Athens, Leuven, Amsterdam and Malmo, to develop an automated approach to detecting the disease. The results are published in the January edition of the journal Bone.

The team used 'active shape modelling' techniques developed at Manchester University to detect jaw cortex widths of less than 3mm, a key indicator of osteoporosis.

"At the start of our study we tested 652 women for osteoporosis using the current gold standard, the highly expensive DXA test," Professor Horner said. "This identified 140 sufferers. Our automated X-ray test immediately flagged up over half of these. The patients concerned may not otherwise have been tested for osteoporosis."

"This cheap, simple and largely automated approach could be carried out by every dentist taking routine X-rays, yet the success rate is as good as having a specialist consultant on hand," he continued.

The researchers now hope x-ray equipment companies will seek to integrate the software with their products so as to make them available to dentists.

For further information about the project, please click here.

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