Researchers Use Dental X-Rays to Identify Patients With Osteoporosis

Researchers at the University of Manchester School of Dentistry in England have created a way of identifying patients with osteoporosis using dental X-rays.

The Manchester team developed a software-based approach to detecting osteoporosis using routine dental X-rays, also called radiographs, by automatically measuring the thickness of part of the patient's lower jaw.

Health care professionals use radiographs widely in the National Health Service in England to examine third molars and gums for disease, as well as during routine examinations.

To harness these high use rates, the team drew on "active shape modeling" technology developed by the Division of Imaging Sciences of the University of Manchester to automatically detect jaw cortex widths of less than 3 millimeters — a key indicator of osteoporosis — during the radiographic process.

"At the start of our study we tested 652 women for osteoporosis using the current 'gold standard,' and highly expensive, DXA test," Dr. Keith Horner said. "This identified 140 sufferers."

"Our automated X-ray test immediately flagged-up over half of these," Dr. Horner continued. "The patients concerned may not otherwise have been tested for osteoporosis, and in a real-life situation would immediately be referred for conclusive DXA testing."

"As well as being virtually no extra work for the dentist, the diagnosis does not depend on patients being aware that they are at risk of [developing] the disease," Dr. Hugh Devlin explained. "Just by introducing a simple tool and getting health care professionals working together, around two in five sufferers undertaking routine dental X-rays could be identified."

"The test might even encourage older women to visit the dentist more regularly," Dr. Devlin added.

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