Revised AAHA dental guidelines emphasize importance of X-rays

AAHA recently published its revised 2013 AAHA Dental Care Guidelines for Cats and Dogs, which incorporate the latest dental research and best practices to help animal hospitals provide optimal dental care.

According to Kate Knutson, DVM, AAHA president, renowned in the veterinary profession for her dental expertise, the guidelines contain important updates on X-rays, as well as other important topics such as non-anesthetic dentistry and pain mitigation.

Knutson took some time to discuss some of the more notable changes that veterinarians will discover while reading the guidelines.

The importance of full-mouth X-rays

Full-mouth dental X-rays have taken on even greater importance in the revised guidelines. According to Knutson, the guidelines recommend taking full-mouth X-rays with every dental procedure because veterinarians can get a better diagnosis of the entire health of their patients' mouths.

"There is overwhelming evidence that you cannot evaluate the entire tooth structure by a visual look at the crown of a tooth," Knutson said. "Most of the tooth lies below the gingival or gum surface and its health cannot be appreciated until an X-ray is taken and reviewed."

In addition, the revised guidelines recommend that practices take X-rays after every extraction procedure to verify that tooth roots have been completely removed.

"It is incumbent upon the surgical team to make certain that they have done the procedure correctly and post films will allow them to gauge their success," Knutson said.

Pet owners should be informed whenever full-mouth X-rays are taken, as well as alerted if a root tip is left behind or any other unexpected event occurs during a procedure, Knutson said. 

Speaking out against non-anesthetic dentistry

The revised guidelines also include a strong statement against ever-controversial non-anesthetic dentistry, which has drawn the ire of many veterinary dental specialists over the years.

Knutson said nonanesthetic dentistry advocates often lead pet owners to believe that the practice is safer and less traumatic than procedures using general anesthesia, but in reality it holds none of the benefits of comprehensive dental care performed by qualified veterinary professionals.

"While it may make people feel as if they are doing good for their pet's health, it is a false sense of security," Knutson said. "You cannot chart the teeth, evaluate for periodontal disease, take and evaluate X-rays for the purpose of diagnosing pathology or disease without a patient asleep. Additionally, you cannot examine the inner structures of the mouth for signs of cancer or take biopsies."

Exercising care while poking and prodding

The revised dental guidelines also remind veterinarians to exercise caution when poking and prodding patients' teeth while they are awake. According to Knutson, pets often have "an extraordinary amount of bite inhibition" and will maintain a stoic disposition as the pulp cavity of a broken tooth is being probed - even if they are experiencing significant pain.

"Dogs, and to a certain extent cats, don't lash out like we, as humans will do, when other humans are causing them pain. That is not evidence, howver, that the dog or cat is not experiencing pain," she said.

For more information, read the complete AAHA Dental Care Guidelines for Cats and Dogs

NEWStat Advancements & research News