A Look at Dental Radiology

"We now look and are able to see more clearly," said Jack Easley, DVM, MS, Dipl. ABVP, a general practitioner in Shelbyville, Ky., about the use of open-mouth radiographs in the field to understand equine dental problems. In his presentation, "A New Look at Dental Radiology" at the 2002 American Association of Equine Practitioner's (AAEP) Convention, Easley discussed how open-mouth radiographs can be invaluable tools for the equine practitioner in the diagnosis and treatment of all types of dental abnormalities. He believes that radiology has not been used enough in the field by practitioners.

"Open-mouth films bring the upper and lower occlusal (biting/grinding) surfaces out of contact and decrease superimposition (overlay) of the right and left arcades (rows of teeth)," he said. This technique can allow the practitioner to see the entire circumference of the tooth crown, which was previously obscured. With conventional closed-mouth radiographic projections, the erupted crown is obscured by superimposition of the crowns of the opposite dental arcade.

Easley pointed out that differences in tissue density and the increasing width of the horse's head from front to back usually necessitates more than one film of one anatomical area to be taken in order to highlight that area. He also said that coning down (concentrating the beam on one area of the head) on the radiograph allows better contrast and detail over a particular area of concern. He recommends taking radiographs from the right and left sides.

Heavy sedation is necessary for about 20-30 minutes for safety during radiography and to help open the horse's mouth. Sedation allows the horse to be more comfortable and allows the veterinarian to perform a more detailed exam. The horse's head is rested on a table or support stand to help achieve motionless radiographs, which aids in diagnosis.

Easley went on to discuss the technique of taking these open-mouth radiographs and the different views that can be taken, and he presented several case studies in the proceedings.

He quoted Dollar, a nineteenth century veterinary surgeon, who stated that many dental abnormalities in the horse can exist for a long time and not cause any inconvenience. Once a dental condition progresses to the point of causing a clinical problem, the prognosis is grave and treatment only reduces the magnitude of the disease. Since many areas of the equine mouth cannot be examined during a clinical exam, radiographs--especially open-mouth radiographs--can aid the practitioner in diagnosis of problems. Therefore, Easley recommends making this more of a routine part of equine dentistry.

About the Author

Sarah Evers Conrad

Sarah Evers Conrad has a bachelor’s of arts in journalism and equine science from Western Kentucky University. As a lifelong horse lover and equestrian, Conrad started her career at The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care magazine. She has also worked for the United States Equestrian Federation as the managing editor of Equestrian magazine and director of e-communications and served as content manager/travel writer for a Caribbean travel agency. When she isn’t freelancing, Conrad spends her free time enjoying her family, reading, practicing photography, traveling, crocheting, and being around animals in her Lexington, Kentucky, home.

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