Animal Hospital
Quality Care
Dedicated staff
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Hours of Operation:

Monday: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Tuesday: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Wednesday: 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
Thursday: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Friday: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Saturday: 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Sunday: Closed

What's below your pet's gum line?

I did it. I invested in a digital dental radiography unit. Why, you ask? Well, because I am finally heeding the advice of the veterinary dental experts and the experts state that assessing what is going on below the gumline counts.

In an earlier article I discussed what periodontal disease is and how it affects pets compared to humans. As a brief overview, periodontal disease is defined as disease surrounding the tooth. Peri means around, and dontium means tooth. The periodontium includes the gum, periodontal ligament (a meshwork of connective tissue that attaches the tooth to the jaw), and the alveolar bone (the bone of the jaw immediately surrounding the tooth).

Periodontal disease usually starts as tartar building up on the enamel of the tooth near the gumline. This leads to gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums. If this tartar is not removed it continues to grow into a calculus (a mineralized matrix of old food, saliva, bacteria and minerals). This not only irritates the gumline, but also gives the bacteria a place to hide away from oxygen and the enzymes of the saliva.

Not only will this calculus advance between the gumline and the tooth, but it also irritates the gums, allowing bacteria into the bloodstream. Healthy gums are a great defense against allowing bacteria into your pet's system, however irritated and bleeding gums become a two-way street. As the periodontal disease advances, the gums will either recede and expose the root or pockets will develop between the gumline and tooth.

These pockets are the tricky part. They hide tartar and bacteria. Even brushing the teeth will not get rid of them because they are below the gumline. To find these pockets we use instruments called dental probes. After cleaning the teeth we insert the probe around the tooth in search of pockets. Etched on the side of the probes are little lines which measure one millimeter in depth and one can assess how deep the pocket is from the gumline to the end.

However, if the gums have not receded, exposing the root, there is no way of telling if this is an isolated pocket that can be treated and healed or whether the root is damaged and the tooth should be removed. Now, I can tell you from experience that removing a rotten tooth is pretty easy, however removing a healthy tooth can be quite difficult and time consuming. Remember, all of this has to be done under anesthesia.

In my experience the biggest concern of a pet owner is not the cost of dentistry or having teeth removed, but rather anesthesia and length of anesthesia. Anything to reduce the time under anesthesia will help minimize any anesthetic complications and always puts my mind at ease.

Dental x-rays are also important for identifying other problems with the oral cavity. In younger pets, complications can occur from unerupted deciduous (baby) teeth. If a tooth that should have come through the gums does not, it is not only painful, but also can delay the eruption of adult teeth, lead to cysts around the tooth, infection, etc.

Many veterinary dentists recommend a full examination of the mouth when a pet is spayed or neutered. This is a great time to do this because the patient needs to be anesthetized for the spay/neuter and it is much safer to keep a pet anesthetized a little longer than it is to anesthetize them multiple times.

If anything suspicious is found during the exam dental x-rays are a great way to diagnose the problem and intervene immediately. In older pets certain tumors can arise from the bones of the jaw. Dental x-rays are important for evaluation the extent of the tumor and help veterinarians decide on an appropriate treatment plan.

February is National Pet Dental Health Month so remember to take your pet to get those choppers checked out and if your vet recommends dental x-rays, you'll know why.



Matthew Kearns, DVM