Dental X-Rays May Warn of Osteoporosis

Computer Analysis of Dental X-Rays May Help in Osteoporosis Screening

By Miranda Hitti
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD
on Friday, January 05, 2007


Jan. 5, 2007 -- Osteoporosis screening may be helped by dental X-rays, British dental experts report.

They've developed computer software that checks routine dental X-rays for possible warning signs of osteoporosis, in which bones become too thin and are more likely to fracture.

The software developers include Keith Horner, PhD, MSc. He's a professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery at England's University of Manchester.

Horner's team tested the software on 652 women aged 45-70 in Belgium, Greece, Sweden, and the U.K.

The women got bone density scans of their hip and spine using a special type of X-ray called dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA).

The women also got routine dental X-rays that were analyzed with the computer software.

The DEXA scans showed that 140 women had osteoporosis. The computerized dental X-ray analysis didn't flag all of those cases.

But the dental X-ray analysis showed that 119 women were candidates for further bone tests, which later showed that 72 of those women indeed had osteoporosis.

Tapping Useful Information

The dental X-ray software "should not been seen as a replacement" for DEXA, Horner tells WebMD in an email.

Instead, the software may help dentists note patients who might be candidates for further osteoporosis screening, based on their risk factors and medical history.

"The value of our method is that dentists take millions of these X-rays every year for ordinary dental reasons and they contain useful information that isn't being used," Horner says.

"People may be apparently healthy and never visit their family doctor, but often regularly go to their dentist for checkups."

Horner says the analysis could be done without the software, but not as well.

"The software does it automatically and is free from observer errors," Horner says.

The software isn't available yet.

"We are currently negotiating with an industrial partner to get the software out from the laboratory into the dental offices," Horner says.

SOURCES: Devlin, H. Bone, Dec. 22, 2006; online edition. Keith Horner, PhD, MSc, professor of oral and maxillofacial imaging, University of Manchester, England. News release, University of Manchester.

© 2007 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.


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