While x-ray is still one of the best methods to see bone structure, it is not the best method of determining bone density or strength.
In order for doctors to determine if you have osteoporosis (loss of bone density), a bone density test is required. The most advanced and accurate method available today is called "Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry" or DEXA for short.
This method utilizes very low-dosage x-rays in a safe, compact machine to accurately measure your bone density. The computer is programmed to calculate the value at an exact location, so that your results can be compared to your peers. One score, the "Z-score" compares you to others of the same age. The other score, the "T-score" compares you to a healthy young person at peak bone mass. Lastly, we set the computer so that the machine reads the density of the interior of the bone (the matrix). This allows us to get a very accurate reading that can be used at a later date to see if you are getting better or worse. Based upon your test results and risk factors, the doctor will prescribe a course of therapy. You will be advised of the exact amount of calcium, Vitamin D, and magnesium to take, as well as natural alternatives to medication. If your bone density is sufficiently lacking, then you will be advised of the various medical options that can be discussed with a physician. We recommend that everyone over age 20 have a DEXA test in order to establish a baseline that can be used for comparison later on.
It should also be noted that men should be tested as well as women. Osteoporosis is not just a disease for women. In fact, 1.5 million men suffer from osteoporosis, and another 3.5 million men have a high risk of developing the disease, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Only about half of them have any risk factors (conditions that contribute to bone loss). The other half have idiopathic (we don't know what causes it) osteoporosis, and can get it at any stage of life, including childhood or adolescence. Here's the scary part: Compared to women, men are twice as likely to die within one or two years after a hip fracture.
The problem is that information about the importance of testing for osteoporosis seems to be hard to come by, especially for men. For instance, the National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that fewer than 2% of men have been told by their doctors that they may be at risk of osteoporosis. Even men who are at a high risk don't know that the disease can affect males.
What about children?
The fact is that most of the bone mass carried into adulthood is established by age 15. If the child misses this "golden opportunity" for building good strong bones, they may have missed out by the time they are grown. Recent research has shown that children who drink sodas (especially colas) are at a much greater risk (3 to 5 times) of breaking an arm or leg because of bone loss. Also, if the child is sedentary, they tend not to build as much bone mass. Common sense tells us that we should be testing children for bone density so that changes can be made as soon as possible, rather than waiting until its too late.
It is especially important to be tested if you have any of the following risk factors.