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Dental X-rays Can Predict Future Fracture Risk

December 7, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Musculoskeletal Radiology
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Dental X-rays of bone in the lower jaw can predict which women are at future risk of fractures, according to Swedish research.

Scientists from the University of Gothenburg’s Sahlgrenska Academy and Region Västra Götaland (Västra Götaland County) used data from the Prospective Population Study of Women in Gothenburg, which began in 1968.

Lauren Lissner, PhD, one of the study’s authors, summed up the finding:

We’ve seen that sparse bone structure in the lower jaw in midlife is directly linked to the risk of fractures in other parts of the body later in life.

Dr. Lissner is a researcher at the Institute of Medicine at the Sahlgrenska Academy. She was quoted in an academy news release.

The study, published in October in Bone, included 731 women whose ages in 1968 ranged from 38 to 60. X-ray images of their jawbones were analyzed in 1968 and 1980. The researchers correlated the results with the subsequent incidence of fractures.

For the first 12 years of the study, fractures were self-reported. Since then, fractures have been identified through medical registers. Altogether, the study covered 38 years.

About 20 percent of the women age 38-54 had sparse bone structure in the jaw when the first examination was carried out in 1968. They turned out to have significantly greater risk of fractures.

The study also found that the older the person, the stronger the link between sparse jawbone structure and fractures elsewhere in the body.

Grethe Jonasson, DDS, PhD, of the Research Centre of the Public Dental Service in Västra Götaland, initiated the study. She said routine dental X-rays could be an excellent screening tool:

Dental X-rays contain lots of information on bone structure. By analyzing these images, dentists can identify people who are at greater risk of fractures long before the first fracture occurs.

However, that presupposes a mechanism by which such X-rays would be read for bone structure and the results passed along to patients or their family doctors. Do dentists have the time and expertise to do this?

Maybe electronic health records will make dental X-rays more widely accessible for reading, but in the United States, at least, the structure of the health care system would have to undergo some modifications in order for this discovery to have practical use. We’ll see.

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