Dental disease is the most common diagnosis veterinarians will make on any dog or cat over the age of one year. Despite a Pet Dental Health Month each February and constant reminders from veterinarians, some owners simply overlook or are unaware of what’s happening inside their pet’s mouth. But it is a real problem. Left untreated dental disease can lead to serious problems like heart or kidney disease, not to mention the horrible bad breath!
Even pet owners who do routinely try to brush their pets’ teeth or look at the mouth can be fooled. A study in the American Journal of Veterinary Research found that almost 30% of dogs and more than 40% of cats whose mouths were clinically normal actually had significant problems under the gumline. In addition, if the pet had visible dental problems, veterinary dentists found additional pathology more than 50% of the time using dental X-rays.
Some very serious problems can be found under the gumline. Root abscesses, fractures, jaw bone loss and even cancer often aren’t apparent with a visual examination. Dental x-rays (radiographs) are needed to find and successfully treat these painful and significant issues.
The use of radiology for veterinary patients is not new. Just like human dentists, veterinary dentists have long had the ability to use x-ray film and dental radiographic machines. However, long delays in getting the right shot and developing the film meant that dogs and cats were under anesthesia for long periods of time.
Fast forward to today and we see a great leap in technology. New digital sensors are replacing dental x-ray film and hand-held dental x-ray units are being used instead of large, wall mounted or floor units. Images are captured by computer using very special software instead of saving and filing lots of film.
The benefit to all of this is that skilled veterinary dentists and technicians are now able to get a set of full mouth radiographs in less than 15 minutes. That means less time under anesthesia for your pet and better imaging for diagnosis and treatment of problems in the mouth or around the teeth and roots. It also means that problems in your pet’s mouth can be found more easily and treatment started sooner.
Using sophisticated software, veterinarians can manipulate these images to look at a tooth or root in great detail or magnify a suspected lesion. If your veterinarian is using digital dental x-rays, areas of concern can be saved and even sent via email to a board certified veterinary dentist for review.
For some pet owners, the thought of having their four legged companion anesthetized for this is troublesome. But, it is important to remember that our pets will NOT hold still while someone tries to place a sensor in their mouth or position their head in exactly the correct position. Further, if a diseased tooth is found that needs extraction or a root canal, the pet is already for the procedure.
It is important to remember that most of the pet’s teeth and the problems they have are under the gumline where it can’t be seen in an awake animal. Mis-leading marketing campaigns try to tell you that non-anesthetic pet dental scaling is best. But experts and veterinary dentists highly discourage all pet owners from falling for these scams. Anesthesia is entirely necessary for proper evaluation of the pet’s mouth and for a a complete cleaning or even looking deeper should a serious problem be hidden.
Your veterinarian can help you understand that good oral care for your pets is more than scraping off tarter. Proper dental care is good imaging, complete cleanings and then treatment and correction of the underlying problems. And don’t forget, your help is then needed to provide the right type of at-home care, such as daily brushing.