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Bone Disease Diagnosis From Where You'd Least Expect It

Dentists can detect signs of osteoporosis and bulimia

FRIDAY, Nov. 8, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- A visit to your dentist can help reveal early signs of osteoporosis.

When a dentist notices bone loss in a person's jaw, it may be a sign of bone loss in other parts of the body, says Barbara J. Steinburg, a clinical professor of surgery and medicine at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia.

She says a dentist may be the first health professional to suspect osteoporosis in a patient. If that's the case, the dentist can refer the patient for medical assessment.

A person with osteoporosis who has bone loss in the jaw may also be at risk for bone loss around the teeth.

Osteoporosis may be the culprit when post-menopausal women complain that their dentures don't fit properly, Steinburg says. Studies show that post-menopausal women with osteoporosis needed new dentures three times more often after age 50 than women without osteoporosis.

Bone loss in these women can become so severe that it makes it impossible to create functional dentures for them. That means they may be unable to chew many kinds of food and could suffer serious nutritional deficiencies.

Dentists can also detect signs of bulimia in their patients. That's because the constant self-induced vomiting done by bulimics exposes their back teeth to powerful stomach acids. The teeth can become smooth and glassy as the enamel and dentin layers are eroded by those stomach acids.

Steinburg says dentists need to be aware of such signs so that they can refer patients to appropriate health-care professionals.

More information

Here's where to go to learn more about osteoporosis and bulimia.

SOURCE: American Dental Association, news release, October 2002
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