Osteoporosis affects almost 15% of Western women in their fifties, 22% in their sixties and 38.5% in their seventies. As many as 70% of women over 80 are at risk, and the condition carries a high risk of bone fractures - over a third of adult women falling victim at least once in their lifetime. A wide-scale screening for osteoporosis is not currently viable - largely due to the cost and scarcity of specialist equipment and staff.

A team of scientists has therefore developed a software-based approach to detecting osteoporosis during routine dental x-rays, by automatically measuring the thickness of part of the patient’s lower jaw. X-rays are used widely in the National Health Service (NHS) to examine wisdom teeth, gum disease and during general check-ups, and their use is on the rise. In 2005 almost 6000 were taken on female patients aged 65 or over in a single month, and the number taken has increased by 181% since 1981.

To harness these high usage-rates, the team has drawn on ‘active shape modeling’ technology developed by the University of Manchester´s Division of Imaging Sciences to automatically detect jaw cortex widths of less than 3mm - a key indicator of osteoporosis - during the x-ray process, and alert the dentist.

Professor Keith Horner from the School of Dentistry explained: “At the start of our study we tested 652 women for osteoporosis using the current ‘gold standard’, and highly expensive, dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) test. This identified 140 sufferers. 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. 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.”

MEDICA.de; Source: The University of Manchester