Dental radiography – Should we be doing more?

Presenter – Lisa Milella BVSc Dipl.EVDC
In last week’s blog I was perhaps a little over confident in ‘patting myself on the back’ for acknowledging that measuring blood pressure in cats was already a common place tool in my diagnostic plan. This week’s webinar covered the topic of ‘dental radiography’, and where blood pressure measurement may be common place in my day to day practice, taking dental x-rays is frankly non-existent. So I have to admit my confidence levels did take a significant turn in the downwards direction.

However this sinking feeling didn’t stay with me for long. Lisa Milella gave a really interesting and informative webinar and managed with her enthusiastic and logical approach to make me sit up and ask the question: ‘in order to do the best job for our patients – should we be doing more dental radiography?’.

Lisa gave detailed descriptions of many situations where dental radiography may be appropriate and would offer an improved service to our clients. In many cases it may also save us a lot of time. For example let’s look at a cat which has feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORLs). A cat with type 1 lesions will still have the presence of a normal root structure which will require extraction. However a cat with type 2 lesions will have ankylosis and no normal root structure, so there is no point wasting time trying to find and extract a root that doesn’t exist.

With both type 1 and type 2 FORLs, the surface of the tooth will look exactly the same. It is only when a radiograph is performed that we can ascertain what type of extraction is required. This not only saves time but also prevents us performing unnecessary procedures trying to dig out a tooth root that doesn’t exist, and if we are really unlucky, fracturing a jaw in the process.

Money is often cited as a reason why dental radiography is not an option within practices but on hearing the initial outlay I was pleasantly surprised. The cost of a basic dental machine is generally around £2000, with a digital x-ray costing a further £5000. If we are charging our clients between £10-£15 per exposure, Lisa believes the machine would pay itself over a reasonable time frame. Of course if the outlay for a new dental machine is just too much then it is always possible to use a standard practice x-ray machine – it’s just a little more cumbersome.

In answer to my original question, ‘yes’ I do believe we should be doing more dental radiography. I suspect dental x-ray machines will become increasingly common in practice over the next few years just like the introduction of ultrasound machines several years ago. And, just like the ultrasound machine, before we know it we will wonder how we ever coped without them.

The Stethoscope (MRCVS)

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