Dentals: The Importance of Radiographs

At the Horizon Veterinary Group, we realize that regular dental cleaning is a very important part of your pet’s veterinary care. Bacteria that live in the mouth can greatly increase in numbers when there is inflammation and infection associated with gingivitis and can travel to your pet’s organs potentially causing damage. These bacteria thrive in the space between your pet’s teeth and their gingiva in a space called the gingival sulcus. This space is very small (no more than 2 to 3mm deep) and you cannot see it. Associated with the accumulation of calculus and tartar, bacteria will populate the sulcus and surrounding gum tissue. These bacteria will do a significant amount of damage to the gums and the bone which supports the tooth root and keeps it in place. This is called the alveolar bone. To be able to assess the bone around the teeth we need to take a radiograph (X-ray) of the tooth root and the alveolar bone. The roots of your pet’s teeth are very long; more than half of the tooth is under the gum. Radiographs allow us to see the root and any problems that might be occurring below the gums.

When your pet is getting a dental cleaning we also probe the depth of the gingival sulcus. If the pocket is deeper than normal it can be an indication of alveolar bone loss and a radiograph will help to confirm this. When we are deciding whether or not the tooth should be removed, we are looking for significant bone loss. If there is only a small amount of bone loss, we may decide not to remove the tooth in some situations. Although a tooth may look healthy before reviewing dental radiographs it is often surprising that there can be pocketing and significant bone loss found on radiographs. This is the only way to adequately assess the health of the teeth. Taking a radiograph of the tooth is also the only way we can see if there is an abscess at the root of the tooth. An abscess is an area where there is bone loss and a major infection between the tooth root and the bone. The only way to get rid of the infection and pain is to have the tooth removed.

 80% of dental problems can be missed when radiographs are not taken! That is a huge amount of pain and discomfort that we could be treating if we take radiographs. Radiographs can help us catch problems early which can help us prevent an abscess from forming, saving your pet a lot of pain. Pets will not show pain and they will continue eating even if they are experiencing pain. Instinctually they know that they will not survive without eating, so they suffer in silence. Ask any person who has had a dental abscess how painful it can be.

With a radiograph we can see that the bone loss around the roots is greater than 50% and there is an abscess on the right root. This tooth must be removed for the health and wellbeing of the patient.


For more information on dentals or to book an dental procedure,

please call one of our Horizon Veterinary Hospitals:


          Forest Lawn Veterinary Hospital             403-272-0115

          Marlborough Veterinary Hospital           403-273-4664

          McKenzie Towne Animal Clinic                403-257-6105

          Riverbend Animal Clinic                            403-279-8747


 Article by:  Lisa Young, RAHT