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When Does My Pet Need Dental Radiographs?

Ranee taking dental radiographs on a patient.

In our last blog we discussed what a dental prophylaxis is and why your veterinarian might recommend one.  We touched briefly on dental radiographs. Now let’s go over WHY or WHEN your pet might need to have this done.  


Here at Kingsbrook Animal Hospital we take routine dental care very seriously.  Getting into a daily routine for dental health can lengthen the time between dental cleanings, or better yet, help prevent needing them! I don’t know how many of you are in the habit of lifting up your pet’s lips and looking at his teeth, but I invite you to do so! Just like with a doctor’s physical exam- just by looking at the outside of the dog or cat a problem can be identified. A wound on the foot, or a loud dry cough. However the source of these problems are not always straightforward and radiographs are utilized to help the doctor determine the best course of treatment.


The same is true with veterinary dentistry. There are times during the oral examination of a pet’s yearly physical that a doctor can tell there is something abnormal and a dental with dental radiographs would be recommended. A malocclusion or missing tooth, perhaps. Other times we unexpectedly find an abnormality during a routine dental prophylaxis. In either case, the radiographs provide more information for the doctor to decide the appropriate course of treatment. Here is a list of things we see in the mouth that would warrant the need for a dental radiograph.



Bone loss around the caudal root of a
lower molar due to periodontal disease.

– Retained baby teeth-  these teeth can have long roots that are very near the adult teeth roots that are coming in. The doctors use these x-rays as a guideline to extract the retained teeth without damaging the developing adult teeth.
 

-Malocclusion- this is when the teeth are in the wrong position or the jaw is malformed so the pet’s “bite” is off. Often times a trauma will occur as a side effect of this. For instance if the lower jaw is too narrow- the lower canine teeth may poke up into the roof of the mouth. There a different treatment options for this, but radiographs are often needed as well.
 
-Discoloration- there are different reasons why a tooth is discolored. Trauma, death of the tooth, etc. Radiographs are typically recommended when a discolored tooth is identified.
 

– Feline resorptive lesions- these are like cavities in people. These are holes in the enamel at the gum line of the tooth and the sensitive tissue underneath is exposed. This is very painful for the cat. Radiographs help the doctor know if the roots of these teeth are still there and healthy or if they are what is called “resorbed” (kind of like dissolved). 
 



Abscessed caudal root
of the 4th premolar.

– Missing teeth. There can be a few reasons for  missing teeth. They never developed and really are not there. They are impacted under the gum line and are potentially problematic. The crown (the part you see in the mouth) has broken off and the roots are left under the gum line. We could never know what the reason for the missing tooth is without a radiograph. 
 

An impacted tooth is a tooth that never erupted but is fully grown and completely under the gum line- sometimes sideways! These impacted teeth can develop a type of cyst around them called a dentigerous cyst that is very destructive to the bone of the jaw. For this reason impacted teeth should always be extracted. Retained roots with crowns should also be extracted to prevent things like pain, infection and abscesses.
 

-Broken or Fractured teeth- sometimes these teeth can seal themselves off. If the pulp is left exposed, however, this is another potential source for pain, infection or an abscess.
 

Bone loss around the incisors.

 – Moderate to Severe periodontal disease- think wear and tear!- If a pet has a lot of tartar and gingivitis and it is left untreated a few things are going to happen. The gums are going to get really red and painful (gingivitis) and potentially infected, the gums are going to recede exposing more and more of the tooth that is supposed to be under the gum line, the tooth is going to become mobile or wiggly.  These three things all affect each other in a vicious cycle that ends up in the loss of the tooth, and most likely the teeth around it. Radiographs help us view how much damage or health there is associated with the tooth or teeth in question and if it can be saved or if it needs to come out. Our goal is always to save a tooth if we can.
 

Of course there are always things that I have not listed here when a veterinarian may feel a dental radiograph may be needed- a pet whose mouth looks outwardly fine but is not eating for instance.  But the most common reasons I have listed above.  Again, there are some routine things you can do to help keep your pet’s teeth as healthy as possible. If you’re in Frederick, MD and would like to learn about these, a technician would be happy to go over them with you so STOP BY!:)

 

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