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March 6, 2024

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Why Does My Pet Need Dental X-rays?

by Aili V. Heintz, DVM

You may remember in our previous blog post; we discussed the various aspects of dental cleaning for your pet. During a dental prophy, we scale, clean, and examine the animal’s teeth and look for tooth loss or abnormal pocketing. Although these processes are crucial for your pet’s dental health, they may not provide the complete picture.

Why should my pet have dental X-rays?

While cleaning and charting are extremely important for your pet’s dental health, they don’t give us the whole story. There may be dental issues that can’t be seen from the outside, particularly below the gum line. To conduct a thorough oral examination, we need to look for any signs of oral disease. This is where dental X-rays come in handy. The X-rays allow us to see what’s happening beneath the surface and diagnose any underlying problems.

How do you take dental X-rays on a pet?

Dental X-rays are not painful, but it does feel unusual for pets to have X-ray equipment in their mouths. Unlike humans, pets don’t understand that they shouldn’t bite the film cassette. Therefore, the technician will take the X-rays once she puts your pet under anesthesia (similar to a deep sleep). Before the cleaning, the technician takes X-rays of the entire mouth (top and bottom). The veterinarian will then evaluate the images.

What can you see on the X-rays?

Your veterinarian is specifically looking for signs of bone loss around the tooth and at the tip of tooth roots. Bone loss is an indication of periodontal disease. If we detect this disease early, we can recommend treatment options to help preserve the affected teeth. However, if the bone loss is severe or significant, we recommend dental extraction or removal.

The veterinarian checks for bone loss and for any other changes in your pet’s teeth that may affect their comfort and overall health. This includes examining the pulp canal, which is located in the center of the tooth. The pulp is where the nerve supply is located. If this pulp is exposed due to a broken tooth, it can be very painful. X-rays can reveal certain conditions that may require medication or even tooth extraction.

How do you use X-rays for dental care?

Dental X-rays are essential for vets to check for any abnormal tooth anatomy and changes in teeth. It helps us plan for a successful extraction. For example, sometimes the root of the tooth may be too close to the bottom of the lower jaw. This can increase the risk of breaking the jaw during extraction. In such cases, we would proceed with caution or refer the patient to a veterinary dentist. Another example is the abnormal placement or shape of the roots. This abnormal placement can make extraction more difficult and can increase the risk of tooth breakage. (Imagine trying to pull out a fence post that’s cemented into the ground).

A dental cleaning and oral exam can help us detect dental diseases, oral lumps, masses, and abnormalities. Dental X-rays are especially important as they allow us to see what is hidden below the gum line. They allow us to identify dental problems at an early stage and take appropriate action. Additionally, dental X-rays help with safer planning for dental extractions. By using dental X-rays, we can see the whole picture and provide your pet with the best possible dental care.

Dr. Heintz is a small and exotic animal veterinarian at Countrycare Animal Complex in Green Bay, WI. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Illinois – Urbana/Champaign. Her passion is helping all animals, whether furry, scaly, or feathered, lead long and healthy lives.
Dr. Heintz