Your dentist may be the first health professional to suspect you have osteoporosis – and refer you to a physician to confirm a diagnosis. Osteoporosis, a bone disorder, weakens bones by reducing their density. The disease affects 10 million Americans, with 34 million more suffering from low bone density and at risk of the disease. Although the disease may strike either gender at any age, women over age 50 have the highest incidence of the disease.
Unfortunately, most patients are not diagnosed with osteoporosis until their bone density has decreased to the point that a major fracture occurs. However, people with low bone mass may experience oral health problems that their dentist may detect and recognize as the first stages of osteoporosis.
Your dentist may be able to detect the first stages of osteoporosis based on a review of your medical history and the results of a comprehensive clinical and x-ray examination. Your medical history will provide information about risk factors such as heredity (genetics), calcium deficiency, smoking, menopause, excessive caffeine or alcohol intake and an inactive lifestyle. Dental x-rays may indicate a decrease in the density of the jawbone and the bone around the teeth from year to year and show advancing stages of the disease. In addition, there are several signs that alert dentists to the possibility of osteoporosis:
In addition to scheduling regular dentist visits, you can help prevent osteoporosis with the following actions:
If you or your dentist suspects you have osteoporosis, be sure to visit your primary health care practitioner as soon as possible. There are new medications available for prevention as well as treatment of osteoporosis, and early intervention is the key to managing both your oral and overall health.