Dentists at the Manchester University have developed a new software-based approach to detect osteoporosis while doing routine dental x-rays. This is done by automatically measuring the width of a part of the patient's lower jaw.
Professor Keith Horner and Dr Hugh Devlin at the University's School of Dentistry adapted the 'active shape modeling' technology that was developed by the Division of Imaging Sciences. They used it to automatically detect jaw cortex widths of less than 3mm, which is a key pointer of osteoporosis.
'At the start of our study we tested 652 women for osteoporosis using the current `gold standard`, and highly expensive, DXA test. This identified 140 sufferers,' explained Professor Horner.
'Our automated X-ray test immediately flagged-up over half of these. 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,' he added.
According to the researchers, the new automated machine is very cheap and simple and every dentist can carry it out.
'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,' said Professor Horner.
'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 the disease. Just by introducing a simple tool and getting healthcare professionals working together, around two in five sufferers undertaking routine dental x-rays could be identified,' he said.
Dr Devlin hopes that this new test would motivate older women to visit the dentist regularly.
'The test might even encourage older women to visit the dentist more regularly!' he said.