Why You Shouldn’t Skip Dental Radiography

Dental X-RaysHoney's dental x-ray revealing the
clothespin embedded in her jaw.

Honey, a newly adopted Cocker Spaniel, was brought to me for suspected dental problems. She was a finicky eater, dropped food while eating, and drooled more than her new parents had ever witnessed in a dog. Her parents thought she may also eat out of only one side of her mouth, but they couldn’t be sure.

On her physical exam, I was unable to examine her mouth as she was very protective of it, but I didn’t see anything beyond the all-too-common periodontal disease. They agreed to let me proceed with dental x-rays along with a dental cleaning. I was expecting to find some teeth that needed to be extracted, but what I saw is the strangest thing I have ever seen in my life, even stranger than dogs who have eaten wedding rings and similar wacky objects.

Embedded within her jaw and completely covered by oral tissue was not a slow-growing tumor, it was not a dental abscess, but it was:

A CLOTHESPIN.

Yes, a clothespin was embedded within her jaw bone, and it had most certainly been there for a long time to assimilate itself into the bony tissue and surrounding oral tissue. We were able to remove the clothespin and part of her jaw, and after a far less extensive recovery than you would expect, she bounced back with a new zest for life.

While a clothespin is not a common finding of dental x-rays, you might be surprised at what veterinarians do commonly see.

Periodontal disease is the most common disease (not just dental disease) in dogs and cats. Cleaning the visible tooth and just below the gum line isn’t enough for many pets. The real disease may lie deeper, where we can’t actually see.

Dental radiographs are a key aspect of a pet’s teeth cleaning experience. Radiography commonly reveals deep infections, abscesses, cysts, tumors, resorption of the roots of teeth, tooth roots left behind after incomplete extraction or fracture, dead teeth, and un-erupted teeth, just to name a few.

Research published in the American Journal of Veterinary Research estimates that greater than 25% of dogs and 40% of cats have significant oral disease that is not visible. These statistics explain why dental radiographs are such an important part of dental cleanings, routine or otherwise.

Some of the symptoms that could signal that your pet has a dental problem include: bad breath, discolored teeth, gum redness or inflammation, blood-tinged saliva, excessive salivation, dropping food, visible tooth fractures, trouble chewing, missing teeth, swellings and masses in the oral cavity, and decreased appetite. Watch for signs and let your veterinarian know if you suspect anything abnormal in your pet’s mouth.

Early screening with radiography is key to preventing oral pain and disease in your pets. Familiarize yourself with the signs that your pet may have dental disease and follow your gut. Regular checkups by your veterinarian will spot dental problems early (hopefully of the more common variety than misplaced clothespins) and keep your pet’s mouth free of discomfort or illness.

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