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When we go to the dentist, we are not surprised when the doctor tells us that we need to have dental x-rays done.  But, hearing the same thing from your veterinarian might shock you.  After all, how does the pet know to stand still?

Digital dental x-rays are becoming more common at veterinary practices across the country.  Since a large percentage of our pets suffer from gingivitis or even more advanced periodontal disease, this tool is vital for veterinarians and veterinary dentists.

Most people don't realize it, but most of the pet's tooth lies under the gum line where you can't see any disease.  Dr. Jan Bellows, a Diplomate in the American Veterinary Dental College explains, "Sixty percent of the tooth lies under the gum line. Since companion animals don't talk (to tell us where the pain is), x-rays help the veterinarian see what's below."

Dr. Brett Beckman, past President of the American Veterinary Dental Society concurs.  "42% of cats and 28% of dogs have hidden dental problems that we would never find without x-rays."  So, while you might think that your pet's teeth are just fine, the odds are that he or she is actually losing bone and other important structures that help hold the tooth in place.  The best way to determine this is the use of x-rays, done while the pet is under a general anesthetic.

Beyond checking for disease, dental x-rays are also important when it comes to breed specific issues.  Many toy breeds end up with crowded teeth or even adult teeth that never erupt above the gum line.  Boxers, Bulldogs and other short faced breeds also suffer from conformation issues that misalign teeth.

Understanding the importance of your pet's dental health is a great first step for most pet owners.  Your pet doesn't have to suffer from dental disease and you don't have to tolerate "doggy breath".  Making a dental plan with your veterinarian will not only prevent dental disease, but may stop other health problems as well. Many of the common diseases that affect older pets such as heart and kidney disease can either be caused by dental problems or made worse by them. Maintaining proper dental health through the entirety of your pet’s life is a crucial part of not only extending your pets life but also ensuring a high quality of life.

The first step in maintaining oral health is to have your veterinarian do a complete oral exam on your pet. This is typically done on an annual basis during your pet’s annual health exam and vaccinations. In between exams if any signs such as tartar build-up, fractured teeth, red gums or bad breath are noted a dental exam should be scheduled sooner.

Next, if appropriate, schedule a complete dental cleaning with your veterinarian.  Done under a general anesthetic, cleaning will remove the tartar and plaque, reducing bacteria that cause serious illnesses, such as heart disease. Included in most dental cleanings is a full set of digital dental x-rays. Using digital x-rays allows the veterinarian to see under the gum line, a crucial step in preventing future dental problems.

Home care is a vital part of maintaining your pet's dental health.  From routine brushing to special water additives and prescription dental diets your veterinarian can help make caring for your pet's teeth easier.  Your pet is going to be eating food each day anyway, why not give him a food that is part of a preventative health care plan!  The prescription dental diets not only remove plaque and freshen breath; they just might help your pet live a few years longer.

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