A Great Aid in Veterinary Care: Dental X-Rays

A Great Aid in Veterinary Care:
Dental X-Rays

By Dr. Ed Mapes
Stonebridge Animal Hospital
McKinney, Tx

Statistics show that by the tender age of two years, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats already have some forms of dental disease. These early problems progress steadily to far more serious stages, resulting in chronic pain, loss of appetite, change in personality, and spread of bacterial infection to organs throughout the body. Our job as veterinarians is to encourage procedures to ensure good dental health to our patients and to detect problems early before more serious damage occurs.

Tartar is the substance that clings to tooth surfaces after meals. Tartar is composed of food particles, saliva, cellular debris, and bacteria. With time, the tartar mineralizes and becomes a hard matter – called plaque – firmly adhered to the tooth surface and even brushing can’t remove this material. The bacteria in plaque causes gum infection that eventually erodes the tooth root/gum interface. This process, known as periodontitis, causes abscessation and great pain for the pet.

Signs of tooth and gum disease include:

  • Dark brown deposits that cover the teeth
  • Bad breath known as halitosis
  • Bleeding
  • Pain while chewing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Personality changes relating to pain and poor nutritional intake
  • Disease related to bacterial spread to other organs such as the lungs, heart, and kidneys

An important component of veterinary medicine is dental X-rays. We’re all familiar with the benefits of oral radiographs at our dentist’s offices; we now offer pets the same level of improved care. The benefits of veterinary dental X-rays include:

  • Detection of deep problems not yet visible at the gum or tooth surfaces
  • Information that guides the best form of treatment
  • Monitoring affected teeth with follow-up radiographs to ensure dental health
Figure 1:  Dental radiograph of a tooth

Figure 1: Dental radiograph of a tooth

Figure 1 illustrates the dental radiograph of a tooth that appears perfectly normal on the outside. Notice the dark area surrounding one of the roots; this is an abscess that is eroding the gum and tooth root, and causes the animal severe pain. Could you blame this dog for spitting his food out and acting aggressive?

The typical dental cleaning involves full mouth radiographs to identify unseen dental disease, removing all plaque from the teeth and then polishing the enamel surfaces to be very smooth. Fluoride is applied to help prevent future tooth decay.

At that time we can address any teeth found to have problems. Steps taken can include tooth extractions or root canal procedures if the tooth can be preserved. Broken teeth are sometimes removed, we can perform a bonded sealant to prevent bacterial invasion of the pulp cavity, or a root canal can be performed if necessary. These options are discussed with the pet owner before proceeding. More complex procedures are often scheduled for another day. After the teeth are cleaned and problems addressed, preventative measures should be taken at home to keep the teeth and gums clean and free of buildup and infection.

Tooth brushing, dental chews, prescription diets, and oral rinses are the best preventative measures, and starting early leads to the best chances of success. Tooth brushing can be a challenge with some pets, but chewies and oral rinses are easy to administer because the animals don’t realize they’re being treated.

Dental radiography should be done with every dental cleaning/polishing procedure; we even offer to take them with other anesthetic procedures unrelated to oral health. It allows us to find diseased teeth sooner and provide better dental care, which in a number of ways helps our pets stay healthier and happier.

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