News & Press
John C. Chao, D.D.S., M.A.G.D
Faculty, USC School of Dentistry
Your Dentist Can Detect Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is known as a disease that decreases bone density and weakens bones. It affects 10 million people. More than one-third of females over 65 have signs and symptoms of the disease. Most individuals afflicted with osteoporosis are not diagnosed until a fracture occurs, a little bit too late.
Some early signs and symptoms of osteoporosis, such as gum disease, loose teeth, and generalized bone loss can be detected by dental X-rays and a clinical examination at your regular dental visit. Your dentist will assess other risk factors for osteoporosis which include: age, heredity, calcium deficiency, smoking, post menopausal, excessive caffeine, alcohol and an inactive lifestyle. Based on all the information available a referral may be made to your physician for further study. A bone mineral density may be ordered by your physician to confirm diagnosis for osteoporosis.
Early diagnosis is important because as the disease progresses, the vertebral bones can become weakened, resulting in a curved back bone. Also, the other bones in the body, such as the hip, will become susceptible to fracture during normal everyday activities. Fractures of any kind, particularly of the hip, may result in the need for surgery, such as hip replacement, and a long period of convalescence. Incidental to the dental examination, your dentist may be able to pick up signs of osteoporosis in some cases with the use of a routine X-ray procedure, called the panoramic radiograph. This single-sheet X-ray film (radiograph) allows the visualization of the entire mouth in a single image. Sometimes comparing panoramic radiographs in past years can show progressive loss of bone density. In a recent study published by the American Roentgen Ray Society, it was reported that the panoramic radiograph (read by an appropriately trained dentist) is just as predictive of osteoporosis as the routine questionnaire used to screen for the disease. It is postulated that with advances in X-ray technology, radiographs will be sensitive enough to detect enough significant changes in bone density for the dentist to be able to regularly screen for osteoporosis.
For patients with osteoporosis, it is important to practice good oral hygiene, see the dentist regularly, consume sufficient calcium and Vitamin D, and add weight to their exercise regimen. In fact, this is also good advice for any adult in the at-risk age group.