The Importance of Dental X-Rays in Dogs

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

How are dental X-rays taken in dogs?

Dental X-rays (also called radiographs) in dogs are similar to those taken in humans. An X-ray machine uses small amounts of radiation see the inside of your dog's teeth and areas below the gum line that are hidden from view.

Unlike humans, dogs 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 dog 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 dog to have his teeth X-rayed?

Dogs cannot tell us when their teeth are diseased and some dogs 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 dog has a serious dental problem. For example, in the images on the right, the teeth appear normal, but the X-ray shows severe bone loss due to painful periodontal disease (white arrows). Once the problem is identified, your veterinarian can treat the problem, thereby relieving your dog’s discomfort.

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

How often should my dog’s teeth be X-rayed?

Dogs need an oral examination under anesthesia whenever there are missing, discolored, or broken teeth, swollen and inflamed gums, oral growths, or bad breath. Even without any of these signs, dogs need to have their mouths X-rayed at least once every year. Remember, one human year is the same as 5-7 dog years, and people routinely have dental X-rays at least every other year.

Must my dog be anesthetized for X-rays? 

Yes, dogs have 42 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 dog and runs necessary preanesthetic tests, anesthesia can be tailored specifically for your dog 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 dogs from this level of exposure.

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