Value of Dental Radiographs

March 10, 2017 Published by

The Value of Dental Radiographs

By Dr. Katie Habgood

Dental disease, or periodontal disease, is one of the most common diseases discovered on physical exam in veterinary medicine.  In fact, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats over the age of 3 suffer from some degree of periodontal disease.  Periodontal disease is often called the “silent disease” because animals often show little indication that there is something wrong.  For example, it is not unusual for an animal to chew on the opposite side of the mouth if he/she has a painful tooth.  Unfortunately many animals suffer in silence for years and are often only presented for dental treatment after the disease has become severely progressed.

Fortunately due to advances in veterinary medicine, more and more dental problems can be identified earlier on in our pet’s mouths, notably due to dental radiographs.  Dental radiology is quickly becoming the standard of care in veterinary dentistry as it often uncovers problems not visible above the gum surface.  Our clinic has a digital dental radiology unit.  The advantage of a digital unit is its speed (the image is available in seconds meaning less time for the patient to be under anesthesia).

Some of the most notable advantages of dental radiographs include:

  • Helps find periodontal pockets that may be missed during probing
  • Helps find broken or left behind/retained tooth roots
  • Helps discover disease of tooth roots (ex. abscesses, cysts, resorption of roots which is common with cats with cavities, ankylosed (fused) roots)
  • Determines if bone destruction or pathologic fractures are present
  • Determines if missing teeth are truly missing vs impacted or embedded underneath the gum line (common cause of cysts forming)
  • Helps discover oral growths/masses or determines the extent of oral growths/masses (ex. Has the mass grown into the bone or surrounding structures?)
  • Helps identify source of oral pain

To touch on a couple of these points, radiographs help find retained or broken roots.  It is not unusual for animals to break teeth from chewing on hard objects like bones.  Also teeth roots can break when trying to extract the tooth.  By taking a radiograph, we can ensure that no roots are left behind.  Leaving roots under the gum line can cause significant gingivitis, pain, and the the risk of abscess (infection) formation.

Another point is using radiographs to find underlying fractures.  Small breed dogs and cats can develop fractures of the mandibles from severe dental disease either before or at the time of tooth extraction. By taking a radiograph, the amount of bone under each tooth can be measured (helpful to know before extracting a tooth) as well as determining if there is already a fracture present.

We as pet owners need to be more aware of the problems afflicting our pets’ mouths and need to be more proactive in preventing disease and looking for disease.  Many pet owners worry about what kind of food to feed and spend a lot of time and money on researching foods, but really it is more important to be concerned about whether or not our pets can enjoy their food pain free.

Please contact our staff members today to discuss your pet’s dental disease and recommended dental treatment.

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