Guest Post: the importance of dental x-rays for your pets

I can always count on Dr Riggs for sound advice and expressive pictures - how about this one on teeth and how x-rays are the only way to know if your pet has dental issues.


IcebergHave you ever seen an iceberg?  They are immense!  I always wonder how something that big could be floating around in the ocean.  We have all heard about the tip of the iceberg, but did you know only 1/6 of the iceberg is visible above the water? 

Iceberg 2I'm sure you are asking,” who cares about icebergs, Riggs, isn’t this post about dentals and teeth”?  Well dog and cat teeth are a great example of an iceberg. When you look at the tooth you are seeing just a small part.  What you can’t see is what can hurt you. 

When we humans go to the dentist, one of the first thing they do is take whole mouth x-rays.  Ever wonder why they do this?  We veterinarians like to do the same thing when we do a dental cleaning of the teeth.  Without radiographs, we would miss about 80% of the problems in our patient’s mouths. 

Even though our pets have the same pain receptors we do, they are way tougher when it comes to dealing with dental pain and you might not know there is an issue at all. 

Abcess halo 3 and normal black line around normal toothHave you ever had to have a root canal?

Remember that throbbing, excruciating pain you felt before the root canal? 

Remember when you wanted to kiss your endodontic dentist after the procedure? 

Well that is the same pain you dog or cat is feeling with a tooth abscess. Look at the picture of the iceberg and then imagine the part that is under the water. 

Abcess halo 2Now look at the picture of the model of a dog’s mouth.  See how long the roots are.  Also notice how the roots diverge from each other as they go down to the roots. 

More the ½ of the tooth is hidden by gum tissue and dental tarter.  Without dental radiographs, you cannot see abscesses. 

The tarter that you see on the teeth, even though it is stinky and disgusting, is “just the tip of the iceberg”.  This is why anesthesia free dentals are not recommended. (Please refer to my previous discussion on the subject).

Abcess halo 1You can see multiple x-rays we taken at our hospital.  All these teeth looked “normal” to the naked eye but you can see the bone loss and abscesses on all of them in the x-rays.  Teeth and bone show up very white on x-rays.  A normal tooth will be surrounded by a thin black line.  An abscess will show up as a black “halo” around a tooth. Bone loss will show the roots but no white bone around the roots.  

So make sure you vet is radiographing the teeth so he/she can get to “the root” of the problem.


Dr_RiggsDr. Rex Riggs grew up in Wadsworth, Ohio, near Akron. Dr Riggs is co-owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is also on the board of the North Central Region of Canine Companions of Independence, a board member of The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Society and Small Animal Practitioner Advancement Board at The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Riggs lives in Lewis Center, OH with his wife Nancy, their dogs Maggie and Ossa, and cat Franklin. Outside of work, Dr. Riggs is an avid golfer and cyclist, and enjoys travel and photography.

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