Dental radiographs are in essential part of the oral exam. The crown is just the tip of the iceberg. Approximately 42% of
dental pathology is found subgingivally. Radiographs will help diagnose pathology that is not visible from the surface, confirm
suspect pathology as well as help demonstrate the pathology to the client. Survey radiographs can also increase your clinic's
Ideally, a full survey set of radiographs should be taken on all patients annually. This survey consists of six views, however
on larger animals additional views may be required. Realistically, however, most clinics don't take full survey series. Radiographs
should be taken when following problems are present: periodontal disease, endodontic disease, FORL's, draining tracts, trauma,
oral masses, dental abnormalities and pre, intra and post surgical evaluations.
Dental radiograph units are relatively inexpensive. They are low maintenance and the film and chemicals are inexpensive. You
can check with dental supply companies and purchase used units very reasonably. Medical radiograph machines can be used but
are inconvenient and they do not show the detail necessary to make a definitive diagnosis. Dental radiograph units allow for
accurate positioning without having to move the patient. They are compact, maneuverable, have limited settings and less radiation
scatter. The settings for kVp and MA are pr]eset, leaving exposure time as the only adjustable setting.
Intraoral films (D speed/Ultraspeed™)can be used with the standard x-ray machines using a technique of 100mA, a focal length
of 12-16 inches and an exposure time of 1/10th second. The kVp will vary from 50-85 dependent on patient size. As with standard radiographs, adjustments can be made if
the dental radiograph is too light, increase the kVp or exposure time and if the radiograph is too dark, decrease the kVp
or exposure time.
Chairside darkrooms are available that are inexpensive, provide rapid results and are easy to use. It is possible to purchase
an automatic processor that is dental x-ray specific but they can be expensive. Holder clips are used to hold the film as
you develop to avoid fingerprints. Light boxes with a magnifying lens are important to read the films.
Dental films come in four sizes with the most common sizes being 2 & 4. The film has a bubble on the upper left hand corner.
This bubble should always be placed toward x-ray beam and towards to caudal aspect of the oral cavity to aid in orientation
of the film. The film has multiple layers that include the white plastic outer layer, a silver lead layer, a paper layer and
Dental radiographs need to be labeled, however due to the small size, the use of radio opaque markers or permanent markers
may interfere with the radiographs. Cardboard or plastic holders are available that have space to label the radiographs. These
holders can then be placed in the patient file or a specific storage cabinet. Envelopes and slide holders also maybe used
successfully. I have found using a plastic business card holder that can be placed in a 3-ring binder are very useful for
storing film size number 0, 1 & 2. A similar holder used for baseball cards works well for number 4 films.
As with any type of radiation, it is important to observe radiation safety guidelines. The amount of radiation needs to be
kept to a minimum. If possible, step outside of the room but if it is not possible stay at least 6 feet away and out of the
line of the beam. Always wear your film badge. There is a full range of positioning devices available to help keep the film
in place. A gauze 4X4 works very well and is disposal and inexpensive.
A full radiographic survey will include 6 radiographs; anterior maxilla, anterior mandible, posterior maxilla (left & right),
posterior mandible (left & right). There may need to be a need for additional views for specific teeth or in larger animals.
There are two intraoral radiograph techniques commonly utilized in veterinary dentistry. The simplest is the parallel technique
and as luck would have it, it can be used for the fewest views. The parallel technique is used for the posterior mandible.
This view will include the molars and caudal premolars. The film beam is placed at a 90 degree angle to the film, which has
been placed on the lingual surface of the teeth.
The other technique is the bisecting angle. The bisecting angle is used to minimize distortions of the teeth. The bisecting
angle is used for the anterior teeth, maxilla and mandible, the posterior maxilla teeth. In this technique the beam is aimed
at the imaginary line bisecting the plane of the tooth and the plane of the film.