Your Pet Needs Dental X Rays….Fact or Fiction?

In the past 5 to 10 years the growth of veterinary dental practices has been rapid.  Tooth brushing for dogs and cats has long been emphasized as part of routine care as has the need for dental prophylaxis or professional cleaning.  But often we receive calls from pet owners who have recently visited their veterinarians  questioning whether their pet needs to see a dental specialist as suggested.  Since the cost of visiting a veterinary dentist can be substantial, a few basics need to be answered:

1. Does your pet receive regular dental attention?

2. Is the current problem preventing your pet from eating or living an acceptable quality of life?

3. Does your pet appear to posture in an unusual way or tilt his or her head when chewing?  Are food remnants dropping from the mouth while eating?

4. Is your local vet concerned that an abscessed tooth might be present?

5. Does there seem to be unidentifiable discomfort about the head or neck region?

These are a few of the points that must be considered when contemplating seeing a dental specialist for your pet. Some of these questions have easy answers while others require more sophisticated procedures to evaluate. Dental Radiography refers to taking x-rays of the various teeth in order to evaluate overall dental health.  If your local vet does not have dental radiology capabilities you will need to seek a practice, either dental or general, that does.

Last week in our practice we performed a dental prophylaxis on a 3 year old dog that appeared to have teeth missing.  The normal assumption would be that he had damaged and lost these teeth through normal activity.  However an x-ray examination revealed a canine or fang tooth that was bone impacted and had never erupted into the mouth.  This pet was at high risk to form a cyst in his jawbone that could weaken the jaw.  Similarly in another pet who was having no obvious discomfort but had minor gingivitis, an abscess was found (with dental radiology) that was likely resulting in some pain as well as increasing risk for other teeth and the jawbone. In both of these examples it would have been easy to overlook these apparently invisible problems.  Either condition causes pain as well as risking irreversible damage to the jaw and surrounding structures.

So in answer to the above title; while all pets certainly do not require routine dental x-rays, there are some instances, while not always obvious, in which dental radiography can prevent serious or even catastrophic problems.