The Importance of Dental X-Rays in Cats

By Malcolm Weir, DVM, MSc, MPH; Jan Bellows, DVM, Dipl. AVDC, ABVP

How are dental X-rays taken in cats?

Dental X-rays (also called radiographs) in cats are similar to those taken in humans. An X-ray machine uses small amounts of radiation to see the inside of your cat's teeth and areas below the gum line that are hidden from view.Unlike humans, cats must be under general anesthesia for dental X-rays. Anesthesia is a safe procedure and will be performed after a general examination. It is tailored to the individual and your cat is continuously monitored during the dental exam. Your veterinarian may perform preanesthetic blood tests to ensure that kidney and liver function are satisfactory prior to administering anesthetic (see handout "Preanesthetic Bloodwork" for more information).

Why is it important for my cat to have her teeth X-rayed?

Cats cannot tell us when their teeth are diseased and some cats never show that they are in pain, even if they are. In many cases, X-rays are the only way your veterinarian can know that your cat has a dental problem. For example, in the image on the right, the X-ray shows bone loss and infection (red arrows) resulting from a fractured tooth. Once the problem is identified, your veterinarian can treat the problem, thereby relieving your cat's discomfort.

Cleaning acat's teeth without X-rays often results in missed opportunities to improve the quality of life and health of your cat.

How often should my cat's teeth be X-rayed?

Cats need an oral examination under anesthesia whenever there are discolored or fractured teeth, swollen and inflamed gums, oral growths, tartar, or bad breath. Even without any of these signs, cats need to have their mouths X-rayed at least once every year. Remember, one human year is the same as 4-5 cat years, and people routinely have dental X-rays at least every other year.

Must my cat be anesthetized for X-rays?

Yes, cats have 30 teeth that will be X-rayed. They need to be still during the oral assessment, treatment, and prevention procedures. Without anesthesia, the X-ray sensor cannot be accurately placed. After your veterinarian examines your cat and runs the necessary preanesthetic tests, anesthesia can be tailored specifically for your cat and closely monitored during procedures. Anesthesia is considered very safe.

Should I be concerned about excessive radiation?

No. Veterinarians use only a small amount of radiation to take dental X-rays. There are no reports of harmful radiation effects in cats from this level of exposure.

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