Spotlight on Research for 2005

March 2005 (historical)

Dental X-Rays May Detect Osteoporosis

Scientists are a step closer in developing a new method of screening for osteoporosis - one that may reach a wider number of people sooner than current methods. Screening may be possible at the dentist's office using dental X-rays.

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Dentistry, led by Stuart C. White, D.D.S., Ph.D., and supported in part by a grant from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, investigated several ways to analyze dental X-rays for evidence of osteoporosis.

The study involved 49 women, 26 of whom had been diagnosed with osteoporosis and 23 of whom did not have the disease. Using three types of computer image analyses, Dr. White's team looked for which types - either alone or in combination - best identified whether patients had the disease. Each method of analysis measured jaw bone tissue differently.

The study showed that all three types of image analysis, Fourier, strut and wavelet - alone or in various combinations - could aid in screening for osteoporosis. The combination of Fourier and strut analyses was the most accurate, with 92 percent of osteoporosis patients correctly identified and 96 percent without osteoporosis correctly identified.

It may be advisable, say the researchers, to integrate other factors into this kind of screening system. Clinical features such as gender, age, use of hormone replacement therapy, familial history of osteoporosis, race and other X-ray measurements could be used.

Osteoporosis is characterized by low bone mass, bone fragility and a greater risk for fracture. It is often called a "silent" disease because it has no discernable symptoms. Like other tissues in the body, bone tissue is in a state of constant flux - remodeling and rebuilding. There are many influences on bone formation and strength, such as hormones, physical exercise and diet (especially intake of calcium, phosphate, vitamin D, and other nutrients). Osteoporosis occurs when there are problems with these factors, resulting in more bone loss than bone rebuilding.

The Surgeon General's Report on Osteoporosis and Bone Health (http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/bonehealth), released in November 2004, estimates that 34 million Americans are at risk for osteoporosis. At the launch of "Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General," Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.S., suggested that we need to be educated about osteoporosis and aware of what we can do to prevent it. "With healthy nutrition, physical activity every day, and regular medical check-ups and screenings, Americans of all ages can have strong bones and live longer, healthier lives."

The mission of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), a part of the Department of Health and Human Services' National Institutes of Health, is to support research into the causes, treatment, and prevention of arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases, the training of basic and clinical scientists to carry out this research, and the dissemination of information on research progress in these diseases. Information on osteoporosis is available from the NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases~National Resource Center; phone toll-free 800-624-BONE (2663), or visit www.osteo.org. For more information about NIAMS, call the information clearinghouse at (301) 495-4484 or (877) 22-NIAMS (free call) or visit the NIAMS Web site at http://www.niams.nih.gov.

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Faber TD, Yoon DC, Service SK, and White SC. Fourier and wavelet analyses of dental radiographs detect trabecular changes in osteoporosis. Bone 2004;35(2):403-411.