Dental care is one of the most effective ways to prolong your pet’s life and prevent the chronic discomfort that accompanies dental disease. For humans, caring for our teeth and gums is part of our daily routine. Without care, serious problems with our teeth and gums would develop. Your pet needs dental care to prevent problems too. Those pets that receive routine dental care have fewer heart, lung, kidney, and liver problems as they mature, as well as nicer breath!
The most common dental problem that we find in pets is considered far worse than cavities in humans. It is called “PERIODONTAL DISEASE.” This disease affects the gums and other tissues around the teeth, instead of the teeth themselves. In advanced cases, it results in infected, foul-smelling, loosened teeth; with a massive, unsightly accumulation of tartar. Often there is a loss of appetite due to painful gums. Even signs such as diarrhea, vomiting and irritability may be the result of this disease.
Food material, bacteria, and saliva accumulate and adhere to the tooth surface, forming a soft “plaque.” This material can be easily removed at this point. However, if buildup is allowed to continue, it becomes hard and “chalk-like” from its mineral content. The tartar buildup causes erosion of the gums, with subsequent inflammation and infection of the tooth socket. The teeth then become loose, and may even fall out. Bacteria may enter the bloodstream through the bleeding gums, and cause problems such as, heart valve infections (endocarditic) and kidney infections (nephritis).
Did you know 80% of dogs and 70% of cats show signs of oral and dental disease by the age of 3 years, making it the most common disease of cats and dogs? 70% of cats over the age of 6 years have feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORL). This is the cat version of a cavity, and these teeth will need to be extracted.
Consequences of dental disease
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Oral pain
- Abscessed teeth
- Tooth loss
- Decreased appetite/ weight loss
- Chronic infections that can spread to the heart, liver, lungs and kidneys
Dental Home Care
The most important aspect of dental care is daily brushing of the teeth with an enzymatic toothpaste for pets.
In addition to brushing teeth you can:
- Provide dental chew treats
- Feed a dental diet
- Use a dental spray/rinse
- For additional information on approved dental home care ask your veterinarian or visit the website of the Veterinary Oral Health Council
Dental Cleanings and Oral Surgery
Many pets need their first dental cleaning by age two and in some cases will need a dental cleaning each year. If consistent dental home care is provided, fewer dental cleanings will be needed. The earlier home care and regular dental cleanings are started, the less likely your pet will need expensive oral surgery and dental extractions in the future.
What is included in a dental cleaning?
- Full oral exam
- Dental charting
- Measurement of periodontal pockets
- Ultrasonic scaling/cleaning
- Root planning
- Fluoride treatment
Since dental cleanings must be performed under general anesthesia, how do we limit anesthetic risk?
- Pre-anesthetic blood work
- A thorough physical exam with your veterinarian prior to the procedure to assess the overall health of your pet
- Using the newest and safest anesthetic drugs tailored to your pet’s individual needs
- Intravenous fluids to maintain a normal blood pressure
- A dedicated technician monitoring anesthesia including:
During your pet’s anesthetic recovery, a technician is by their side monitoring their temperature, heart rate, any signs of pain if extractions were performed, and the need for additional mild sedatives or pain management if your pet shows any signs of anxiety during his/her recovery.
What role do dental radiographs (x-rays) play in a dental procedure?
Dental radiographs show lesions/disease found below the surface of the tooth and gums.
Common lesions found include:
- Periodontal bone loss
- Tooth root abscess
- Feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORL)
Often both radiographic findings and oral exam findings are used in conjunction to determine if a tooth needs to be extracted. Ideally all pets should receive full oral radiographs during each dental cleaning. We highly recommend full oral radiographs in all pets with Stage 3 or Stage 4 dental disease and in cats with one or more resorptive lesions.
What additional steps are taken should your pet need extractions/oral surgery?
- Injectable pain medications are given before and after extractions.
- Injectable antibiotics are given prior to the extraction.
- Intraoral regional anesthesia (nerve blocks) are performed prior to extractions.
- When extracting teeth with 2 or 3 roots, a gingival flap is made, the periodontal bone is removed, the tooth is sectioned into 2-3 pieces, then removed. After removal the gingival flap is sutured closed. In some cases, post extraction radiographs are taken to confirm the entire root of the tooth is removed.
- During your pet’s recovery you will be treating with antibiotics, pain medications, and feeding soft food.
The Good News
Follow these tips for good oral hygiene
- Feed at least some hard food, which will provide a cleaning action.
- Have teeth examined at least once every year for tartar buildup. Pets vary considerably in the amount of tartar that accumulates.
- Use a pet dentifrice on a regular basis. We will be happy to recommend what is best for your pet. Chews and pet toothpaste are available for both dogs and cats.