It can seem strange to some dog owners that vets ‘nowadays’ place so much importance on teeth and dental health. In fact, we often get asked if dentals are really necessary or whether the pet can wait a few months. The problem is that dental problems are often hard to spot because they’re hidden. Added to that, animals won’t stop eating just because of a sore tooth – they’re survivalists, and they tend to carry on eating even if they’re painful. This means people often assume they’re okay. But anybody who has had a tooth root abscess, or a fractured tooth will tell you that they’re painful, so, as a profession, we’re making a concerted effort to identify, diagnose and treat these problems sooner, as well as prevent them from occurring.

What are dental x-rays?

Once we have your animal under an anaesthetic for a dental procedure, we make an assessment of the teeth. This involves probing and visually checking each and every tooth to check for disease. The problem with this approach is that the vast majority of the tooth is below the gumline and rooted in bone, so visually and manually assessing the teeth can miss deeper problems.

Dental x-rays (properly called ‘radiographs’) are the solution to this problem. They allow us to ‘see’ not just the visible part of the tooth (the ‘crown’) but also the deeper part of the teeth (the ‘roots’) as well as the surrounding bone.

How are dental x-rays taken?

In most animals, dental x-rays have to be taken using specialised equipment. We need a selection of small plates to fit inside the mouth of our patients, and a more manoeuvrable x-ray machine helps us to get the angles we need. Not every practice has this equipment, but here at Stanhope Vets we felt it was important to be able to give your pets the gold standard treatment.

Whilst your pet is under the anaesthetic, the plate is placed into the mouth just behind the teeth that need the x-ray. The machine is brought to within a couple of centimetres of the mouth at an angle so that, when the x-ray is fired, the ‘shadow’ of the teeth fall onto the plate. This plate is then inserted into a processor which develops the x-ray and shows it on a screen for our vets to assess.

What do dental x-rays show?

On a normal dental x-ray, we can see all of the tissues of the jaw. This includes the teeth, the tooth root, and the jaw bone. We can also see whether things are missing.

When evaluating your pet’s dental x-rays, your vet might find the following:

  • Retained tooth roots.
    • This is where the visible part of the tooth (the ‘crown’) is missing. Often on a visual inspection it appears the whole tooth is missing because the gum has healed over the top, but on an x-ray it becomes clear that the root is still present. This is painful and still open to getting infected, so it’s a good idea to remove the root.
  • Problems below the gumline
    • Sometimes the crown can look ok, but there’s a painful problem deeper down. This is particularly true in cats, who are prone to a disease where the root begins to break down. Sometimes these teeth can be found on a visual inspection, but more often than not the tooth doesn’t show a problem until the cat has been in pain for some time. With dental x-ray we can find these teeth and take them out sooner to avoid the pain of having an undiagnosed problem.
  • Tooth root abscesses
    • Tooth root abscesses are extremely painful. They occur when bacteria get into the tooth root, usually through a worn or fractured tooth. The abscess happens right around the tooth root at the base of the tooth, causing the jawbone to swell and become infected too. We can use dental x-rays to check that a tooth root abscess is the cause of a swelling in the face, or to a
      ssess a fractured tooth for a developing abscess.
  • Periodontitis
    • Periodontitis is very common in dogs, especially in smaller breeds or as dogs age. Bacteria in the mouth get under the gumline and set off an inflammatory reaction causing gingivitis, and later a breakdown of the periodontal ligament, which is what holds the tooth in the bone. We can see this on x-ray, and it helps us to plan whether teeth should be removed.

How often should my pet have dental x-rays taken?

With all of these conditions, x-rays will help the diagnosis and treatment planning for your pet. In fact, some of these conditions are impossible to diagnose without taking the x-rays, which means they’re essential for helping your pet live a long, happy and pain-free life. Dental x-rays should be taken at every dental procedure. If it’s been over a year since your pet had a dental check-up, why not call our reception team to book an appointment with a vet? They’ll evaluate whether your pet would benefit from an anaesthetic for further examination and go through the procedure with you in detail.