Veterinary dentistry is emerging as one of the fastest growing "new" disciplines of veterinary patient care. The days of bypassing
the oral cavity as the physical examination is being performed are over. Understanding that the condition of the oral mucosa
and the dentition can play a significant role in the overall health of the pet is vitally important. Some conditions that
begin in the mouth can affect the pet's overall health, i.e. periodontal disease, feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions
or lymphocytic-plasmacytic stomatitis. While other systemic conditions may be manifested in the oral cavity, i.e. renal disease,
FIV, FELV or autoimmune diseases.
In order to fully appreciate and diagnose conditions of the oral cavity, intraoral radiology is an absolute must. Adequate
and proper treatment can only be accomplished when accurate diagnoses are made. Disease isolation, treatment planning and
monitoring, evaluating presence or absence of missing teeth, evaluating vitality of teeth, evaluating tumor margins pre-surgically,
evaluating fractured or diseased teeth pre-extraction along with accurate record keeping can be accomplished with the assistance
of oral radiographs. Equally important are post-treatment radiographs to prove complete extraction and monitoring of endodontic
and periodontic therapy.
Intraoral radiographs can be taken with a standard x-ray machine using either standard cassettes or intraoral dental films
inserted into the mouth. However, because of logistics of moving the patient from the dental operatory to the radiology table
and back, you won't realistically do this more than once.
From 26 years of owning a veterinary practice, I can tell you that the best return-on-investment in equipment is a dental
radiographic unit. It should easily pay for itself in 6 months. However, in order for this to be true, you have to use it.
Buying one and then not using it because you don't know how or won't spend the time learning how will not prove to be profitable.
The same diagnostic benefits can be derived from either film or digital radiology. The pros and cons of both need to be weighed
when making that purchasing decision. The same x-ray unit is utilized for both methods. In reality I would recommend both
systems, digital and film. With film, there are 5 different sizes that can be used depending on the patient size and what
is being radiographed. The most common size film for cats is size 0 and size 2 for radiographing the dentition. For evaluation
of the nasal cavity a size 4 would work best. When working with film, additional supplies needed would be a chairside darkroom,
film holders, developer and fixer solutions, drying clips, film mounts, film clips, small view box with magnification, filing
envelopes and a storage cabinet. With digital you need only to add the software and sensor, computer and monitor. The learning
curve is much faster with digital because it only takes 15 seconds to see your results as opposed to 2 minutes with film.
Also, you can take as many exposures as you need without adding to the cost unlike film that has a cost with every exposure.
Granted, the initial cost of digital radiology is greater. But over the course of about 1 year you will spend about the same
amount of money on chemicals, chairside darkroom, film holders, clips, mounts, and film that you would invest in the digital
sensor and software. Those costs continue after the first year if you are using film.
There are times, however, when film is needed. This is why I say you should be familiar with both. Sensors can go bad just
like computers can go bad. Sensors are limited to size 1 and size 2. There are times when a size 4 is really needed. So a
small supply of film and chemicals will come in handy.
The diagnostic value of a radiograph depends on its quality, and the degree of quality is determined by technique. Patient
positioning and film exposure and processing collectively affect the value of a radiograph. With the use of digital radiography,
the processing errors are reduced; however, positioning of the film or sensor in the pet's mouth and then the corresponding
placement of the x-ray source to expose the film or sensor is extremely important.