I have been on the road for this week and am scheduled to conduct four additional in-clinic dental x-ray training sessions next week. I applaud all of the clinics for the desire to add dental radiology to the dental program.

I recently gave a talk at NAVC on dental x-rays – Tips and Tricks for Easier X-rays. It was amazing to see a full house. Ten years ago this same talk would have been half full at best. I am so happy to see clinics realizing the benefit of x-rays for their dental patients. Not only are clinics practicing better medicine, but they are also finding previously undetected pathology that can affect the pet’s health and well-being. You will find anywhere from 42 to 85% more pathology when a full series of dental x-rays is taken on a patient. Changes in the oral cavity can happen rapidly, therefore, warranting a series of x-rays be taken every year on our pets.

Many veterinarians and technicians have concerns about the added cost to a dental procedure and fear that the owner may no longer be willing to proceed with the professional dental cleaning. The question becomes, what is the cost to the patient that endures undiagnosed pathology?

Because of the fear of losing clients, clinics are afraid to make a full series of x-rays a part of the procedure. If the owners are given the option of taking x-rays or not, they will most likely opt out in an attempt to save money unless they understand the importance. It helps to let the owners know that pets are very good at disguising pain and they can’t tell us where it hurts.

Understanding how the dental x-ray system can become an asset instead of a liability can be easily explained. If $50 is added to each procedure to cover the full series of rads and a clinic performs 10 dental procedures a week. The income from the x-rays would be $26,000 in one year not including the increased revenue created by finding and treating unrealized pathology. This will more than cover the cost of a dental x-ray generator and a digital sensor system. The amount of $50 was chosen for ease of calculation but the cost doesn’t need to be extreme. When I was using film, a #2 film cost $25 but a full series was $70. Owners soon realized that it was cost-effective to agree to the full series. When we purchased a digital system, dental radiographs were no longer an option. In reality, I had one client in five years that complained about the x-rays.

It is recommended that practice obtain training on the proper use of the software and positioning for dental radiographs. Taking dental radiographs is not instinctual and requires training to become proficient. Without training, the staff gets frustrated and the procedure will take much longer than necessary. Don’t let the dental radiology system become the treadmill of the practice! Use the radiographs to bond with your clients and show the value of the x-rays by printing a set of the x-rays to send home with the owner.

Here are some things to consider if you are shopping for a digital dental system. You need to like the software and what the software can do for you. Does the company offer training? Ask for a list of other practices that have the system and call to find out about customer service, reliability of the system, and get an overall review of the product. There are many very good systems on the market.