It’s the big day. Your veterinarian has recommended a dental cleaning for your pet, and you’ve booked it in. You’ve fasted them overnight, and you’re in the clinic filling out the pre-procedure paperwork.
You come across the box where you check off whether or not you want full-mouth dental x-rays (or radiographs) for your furry friend. You might be wondering if it’s truly necessary. Well, I’m here to give you seven conditions that are much better seen with the help of x-rays, to give your pet the best possible dental care they can have.
1. Bone loss/Periodontal disease
During a dental procedure, your veterinarian can evaluate the degree of periodontal disease that your pet has with radiographs. This is usually done by looking at how much bone loss there is surrounding the root of the tooth, something that is next to impossible to do without an x-ray. Periodontal disease is evaluated on a tooth-by-tooth basis, as some teeth are more prone to it than others. When a tooth has significant bone loss, we know that it is a cause of discomfort for your pet and will need to be removed, or risk causing more problems down the road.
Now, you might be thinking that it can be pretty easy to see if a tooth is fractured without the hassle of going through radiographs, and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong about that. The fact of the matter is, generally under anesthesia (and sometimes even just looking in the mouth at an exam) we can see a fractured tooth, but what we want to know is how deep that fracture goes, which is difficult to tell without an x-ray. If the fracture goes right down to the pulp, then that’s a problem and the tooth will most likely have to be extracted, or else it could cause quite a bit of pain for your furry friend! If it’s a surface fracture, it might not be causing any problems and can live to see another day. Either way, it’s hard for your veterinarian to tell which route to go without a complete picture.
3. Tooth Root Abscesses
A tooth root abscess is a severe infection of the root of the tooth, most often caused by trauma or a fracture, but sometimes can be caused by severe periodontal disease as well. This is a painful condition that needs to be treated as soon as possible, and an x-ray of the tooth is the most efficient way to diagnose it, as well as evaluate if there is damage to the surrounding structures.
4. Resorptive Lesions
A common and painful dental issue that we see in cats, in particular, is called tooth resorption, where the tooth starts to eat away at itself, and the gums grow to cover the resulting lesions. Like fractures, some of these lesions are easily seen on the tooth’s surface, while others happen below the gum line, making dental radiographs a valuable tool in diagnosing this problem. The tooth can then be evaluated and taken care of, saving your kitty a considerable amount of pain!
5. Impacted Teeth
Sometimes we have a pet come in who seems to have one or more missing teeth, despite never having extractions before. Sometimes, they have fallen out previously or for whatever reason, never formed in the first place. Other times, an x-ray will tell a different story, where a tooth fully developed, but never erupted past the gum line. We call this an impacted tooth, and usually, it’s being prevented from erupting by another structure. Radiographs can tell a veterinarian the status of the tooth and root, whether or not it’s something that would bother the patient or cause pain, and make it easier to come up with a treatment plan based on the findings.
Although not something that we see very often, tumours can sometimes be found in the mouth. They can either be cancerous or non-cancerous, but most of the time they do need to be treated aggressively. So where do dental radiographs fit in? Well, some masses are only visible upon x-ray. There are masses that originate in the gingiva and grow downwards (or upwards) into the bone, and there are masses that arise on the bone itself. Neither of these are visible without using an x-ray to get a more in-depth look.
7. Extra Roots
Most animals will need a tooth extraction at some point in their lives, and luckily, we have skilled veterinarians to do the job. Vets know precisely how many roots each tooth has until we have a pet come in who doesn’t follow these rules. Some pets will have teeth with extra roots, and it’s important for your vet to know how many roots there are when extracting a tooth. It affects the way that they approach the extraction, as well as ensures that nothing gets left behind that could cause problems down the line for their patient. Unfortunately, the only way to know for sure is to take an x-ray.
Still not convinced to check “yes” for dental x-rays? That’s okay, our veterinarians and veterinary technicians are always happy to address any questions or concerns you might have about your pet’s dental health, including dental radiographs.
Written by Sarah Miller, AHT