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Does Your Pet Need Dental X-Rays?

While at-home care can help keep pets’ teeth clean and healthy, good dental health also requires professional attention. Veterinary dental specialists perform many of the same procedures that many pet parents have experienced at their own dental exams, including root canals and orthodontics.

Dental X-rays (also called radiographs) are often a crucial part of a dental evaluation. More than half of each tooth sits below the gumline and cannot be evaluated without imaging. Even a tooth whose visible portion appears clean and healthy can have disease internally or may be causing degeneration of the jawbone and tissues.

Oral health symptoms in your pet: what to look for

A common misconception is that dogs and cats simply have bad breath. But bad breath is not normal. While minty freshness isn’t necessary, anything more than a mild odor should be investigated.

Bad breath is usually caused by the bacteria and their secretions that live on the teeth and under the gumline in the form of plaque and tartar. Left unmanaged, these bacteria and the body’s associated immune response can cause breakdown of the tissues around the teeth. Swelling near the cheek or under the eye can indicate a tooth root abscess, while mouth sores and redness of the gums can point to inflammatory disease in cats. Your pup or kitty might start showing discomfort when eating or a preference for softer foods. These are clear signs that dental radiographs and care are needed.

It’s important to note that many animals hide signs of dental pain and may not show obvious symptoms. Additionally, symptoms often only occur when substantial disease is present.

When are dental x-rays needed for pets?

Being diligent about your pet’s dental care can help reduce their risk of developing severe dental disease.

The age at which dental X-rays and regular cleanings to remove plaque and tartar become necessary varies greatly from pet to pet. Problems might begin as early as age 2 for some pets, while others might be as old as 5 before their vet starts recommending more invasive procedures to their dental appointments.

Most dental problems can only be detected through a thorough anesthetized oral evaluation and dental X-rays. The sooner the evaluation is performed, the more likely teeth can be saved, and extractions and tissue damage can be avoided. Ideally, dental X-rays should be performed on an annual basis. Your veterinarian might recommend repeating X-rays every six months if a problem area has been identified that requires follow-up evaluation.

In addition to identifying chronic dental problems, dental X-rays may be needed to evaluate developmental issues in a young dog or cat, particularly if there are concerns about alignment of the teeth that may cause difficulty eating or damage the soft tissues in the mouth. Any trauma to the head also warrants dental X-rays to evaluate for broken teeth or fractures of the jaw bones.

How are dental x-rays performed for pets?

The procedure is similar for pets and people. The machine that generates the X-ray is positioned outside the mouth, while a receptor plate is placed between the pet’s teeth to receive the radiation to form the image. Today, most veterinarians use digital X-ray systems, so the image is instantly generated on a computer after passing through the pet’s mouth.

Of course, we can’t ask our pets to sit still and hold the plate between their teeth. To create quality images and protect your pet, veterinary professionals and the equipment involved, pets must be placed under anesthesia.

Dental X-rays are very targeted at the tissues involved and require only a tiny amount of radiation exposure. This level of radiation is not dangerous to your pet.

If you have any concerns about your pet’s teeth or dental health, consult your veterinarian. Diligence about oral care is one of the best things you can do to support the long-term comfort and health of your canine and feline friends.

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