THURSDAY, March 22 (HealthDay News) -- Ordinary dental X-rays may hold the key to identifying women at risk for osteoporosis, researchers say.
A European team say they've devised a computer software program that analyzes bone information found in the X-rays. This information may point to trouble elsewhere in the body, they say.
The research findings were to be presented Thursday at the International Association for Dental Research annual meeting, in New Orleans. The study will also be published in the journal Bone.
The technique uses novel computer software developed by the Imaging Science and Biomedical Engineering Division of Manchester University in England, explained study author Hugh Devlin, a researcher with Manchester University's School of Dentistry.
Osteoporosis, a condition in which bones became more fragile and apt to break, affects nearly 45 million older women worldwide. Healthy bones maintain a fine balance between formation and resorption (breaking down) but after menopause, this bone breakdown outpaces bone formation, resulting in bone loss.
According to the study, the incidence of the condition increases as women age, affecting 15 percent of women in their 50s, 22 percent in their 60s and 38.5 percent in their 70s.
Also according to the study, wide-scale screening is costly and difficult to implement.
The approach described here uses software to analyze bone pattern characteristics, including thickness and fragmentation, in routine dental X-rays.
The study enrolled 651 women, averaging 55 years of age, at four clinical centers throughout Europe.
Participants first underwent conventional bone mass density (BMD) measurements of the femur (thighbone), hip and spine.
Researchers also analyzed a small area of dental X-rays that showed a certain type of bone.
The examination of dental records was able to predict osteoporotic risk to the same degree as traditional BMD measurements, the team reported.
As the authors point out, this strategy requires no extra cost or time on the part of the dentist.
"Individuals will be given a probability that they have osteoporosis at the hip and spine based on radiographic and clinical information," Devlin said. "The radiographic information currently used is the width of the mandibular cortex [part of the lower jaw]."
Devlin is now trying to expand the computer search capability and the ability to diagnose osteoporosis to include other features of the dental X-ray.
To learn more about osteoporosis, visit the U.S. National Osteoporosis Foundation.
SOURCES: Hugh Devlin, Ph.D., School of Dentistry, University of Manchester, U.K.; March 22, 2007, presentation, general session, International Association for Dental Research, New Orleans