Dental care should be a regular part of your pet’s daily routine. I want to remind you to “lift the upper lips” of your pet and take a look, if you haven’t done so recently, at the gums and the teeth. If you see redness and/or thickening of the gums, that’s gingivitis! If you see broken or discolored teeth, that’s bad too. I recommend your veterinarian take x-rays of the teeth to identify what problems lie below the gums, hidden from your view.
Radiographs are a diagnostic tool that is used to identify changes in the boney tissues, including teeth. Dental radiographs or x-rays used in veterinary medicine are the same ones that are used for humans. Getting your pet to hold still is the hard part! In most cases your pet must be at least sedated in order to get a good quality image on the film. The exposed film is then developed chemically (similar to developing the negative of a black and white photograph) or digitally to get an image that is recognizable. If there is movement, an improper angle, the wrong exposure technique, old chemicals or any number of other variables, the radiograph may have to be retaken. In all cases the radiograph needs to be interpreted by your veterinarian and/or a dental specialist before any action should be taken.
The technician taking the radiographs must wear protective (lead) gloves; apron, thyroid collar and sometimes special glasses to prevent unwanted exposure to radiation. The x-ray machine is inspected on a regular basis by the state and the technician also wears a monitoring badge to determine if he/she has been accidentally exposed to any radiation. The amount of radiation that is absorbed by your pet is not considered harmful, especially if digital radiology is used (reduced by 90%).
Dental radiographs are an important part of maintaining good oral health care just like they are for humans. The place to start is with an oral “awareness” exam by you, followed by a professional evaluation with your veterinarian that may include a set of dental radiographs to be complete. Your four-legged friend is depending on you to do the right thing. Make it a routine. You both will be winners.