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Veterinary Dental Radiographs
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When analyzing new equipment purchases, a good practice management strategy is to conduct a profit analysis prior to purchasing to determine whether a new piece of equipment will in fact add value to the practice. Successful practices looking to improve their bottom line should focus on prioritizing their purchases, giving priority to those that have at least a clear break even strategy, if not the potential for profit, as well as to those providing value to clients. Dental radiology equipment has repeatedly proven its ability to pay for itself in a relatively short span of time, and even generate significant profit, while helping to improve the well-being of patients. 

Based on this reasoning, acquiring intra-oral dental radiology equipment should be a top priority for those without. Intra-oral dental radiology equipment is an excellent financial investment for any practice, with multiple benefits to the practice, patients and clients alike.

That being said, equipment has a tendency to be underutilized by veterinary practices that don’t have a well defined strategy in place for its use, ensuring it gets used to its full potential. This is certainly true of dental radiology equipment. If your practice is about to purchase new dental radiology equipment, take the time to consider in advance how it will be best utilized in your practice, and what new procedures or policies need to be made concerning staff and client education and acceptance. If your practice has had dental radiology capabilities for some time, periodically step back and evaluate how you can improve upon what your practice is currently doing. If you find your practice is taking dental radiographs only on an “as needed” basis and doesn’t actively recommend dental radiography to your clients, your practice is not getting the most out of your equipment, nor is it providing the best care possible for your patients.

Full-Mouth Intra-Oral Dental Radiographs

Using your dental x-ray equipment to its fullest potential also means providing the best patient care possible, something most veterinary practices aspire to. In short, full-mouth intra-oral dental radiographs should be obtained on every dental patient while under general anaesthesia, with few exceptions. Members of the American Veterinary Dental College advocate this and this recommendation is supported by several published studies. Two studies in particular published by Verstraete et al in 1998 looked at the value of obtaining full mouth radiographs in cats and dogs. They found that radiographing teeth without any apparent clinical lesions resulted in clinically important findings in 41.7% of cats and 27.8% of dogs. (See Table 1). This means that practices that are only obtaining radiographs in areas that appear to have abnormalities are missing a lot of pathology.

The Importance of Dental Radiographs

Most of us chose to enter this profession because we have a strong desire to help animals get the care they need. Recommending full-mouth intra-oral dental radiographs is one tool we can use to ensure they receive it. The ability to identify and treat pathology early allows practices to improve the lives and well being of their patients. Not only will this result in better patient care, your practice will achieve greater financial success.

In addition to the obvious financial benefits to the practice, both in terms of the charges for the radiographs and revenues generated from treating unexpected pathology, there are other advantages for the practice as well. First, practice team members will be become more proficient at obtaining intra-oral dental radiographs and will be better able to obtain good quality, diagnostic radiographs in a timely fashion. Intra-oral dental radiograph positioning is a skill that requires practice to become good at it. From a patient perspective, practice team members efficiency will mean less time spent under general anaesthesia. Practices that are only taking radiographs as needed often find positioning more of a challenge. A second advantage is that the veterinarians radiographic interpretation skills will improve. The more radiographs examined, the better their ability to distinguish true pathology becomes.

If the financial and patient benefits alone aren’t enough to convince practices of the benefit of full-mouth intra-oral radiographs, perhaps this will. As clients have become better educated
regarding their pets oral health care needs, they have also developed higher expectations of the level of dental care their pets receive. Clients who feel, justifiably or not, that their pet received sub-standard dental care are increasingly likely to complain about it. Should a client pursue their complaint with a provincial regulatory body, or within the court system, your practice will need to have intra-oral dental radiographs to back up the patient records. Obtaining pre and post extraction radiographs at a minimum is now the norm. Obtaining full-mouth radiographs, however, is quickly becoming the standard of care expected. Not doing so is risking the veterinarian’s license. Disciplinary cases in Canada where no dental radiographs were obtained and post extraction complications have arisen have already resulted in veterinarians having their licenses suspended as well as monetary fines. To quote Dr. Fraser Hale, DVM, FAVD, Dip. AVDC, “it is becoming very hard to defend offering any dental services without radiographs”.


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