We recommend having your pet’s teeth checked and cleaned at least
ONCE A YEAR.
Dental disease is the single most commonly diagnosed problem in small animal veterinary practice. Approximately 85% of dogs and cats already have dental disease by the age of two. In the past, virtually nothing was done to prevent or treat dental disease in our pets. Today, we take a more proactive approach, attempting to Prevent Disease and treat it more aggressively when present.
SIGNS YOUR PET NEEDS DENTAL CARE
There are many ways to check and see if your pet may be having dental issues, but there are also signs that may not be as visible. This is why veterinarians recommend having your pet’s teeth checked annually. Be careful when checking your pet’s mouth, as a pet in distress or fear can bite. Here are some things to keep an eye (or nose) out for:
Broken, loose, or missing teeth
Discoloration or tartar build up
Excessive chewing or drooling
Reduced appetite or inability to chew
Swelling and bleeding in or around the mouth
Common Pet Dental Care Questions
WHAT DOES A DENTAL CLEANING ENTAIL?
A veterinarian can perform dental procedures for examining, cleaning, and extracting teeth. Under the veterinarian supervision, veterinary technicians may also perform dental procedures for cleaning and polishing. Similar to what you experience during your visit to the dentist, a veterinarian will evaluate your pet’s oral health. X-rays may be taken to check on the jaw’s health and the teeth roots below the gumline. Your pet’s dental evaluation and cleaning, which includes scaling and polishing, are performed under anesthesia; this ensures your pet’s safety and comfort and provides a stress-free environment. Blood tests to check your pet’s liver and kidney values will be performed before any anesthesia is administered in order to ensure the highest safety margins.
Once the pet’s health has been thoroughly assessed by the doctor’s exam and laboratory data (i.e., blood work), an IV catheter is placed. The IV catheter is important to deliver the safest forms of anesthesia as well as IV fluids that support blood pressure and remove toxins caused by bacteria from the blood stream. If significant gingivitis is present, an injectable dose of antibiotics will be given prior to the procedure to protect the bloodstream and begin the healing phase. In most cases, only a light plane of general anesthesia is required. Once under general anesthesia, a complete exam of the mouth will be done, searching for pockets of bone loss, loose or broken teeth and tumors. The entire crown of each tooth is cleaned with an ultrasonic scaler instrument, and then a root-planing procedure is done to remove the bacteria and plaque under the gum line. When all the debris has been removed, the crown of each tooth receives both a polishing and a fluoride treatment. It is also recommended to apply a sealant to the enamel to aid with its protection.
Why are dental x-rays important?
Dental radiology (i.e., dental x-rays) is an essential tool in both humans and pets to complete the dental assessment and generate an acceptable therapeutic plan. Because 50% of each tooth is below the gum line, it is not possible to examine the entire tooth using any other method. We recommend full mouth films for every pet, every dental procedure just like your dentist does for you. X-rays will uncover any hidden painful disease, such as root abscesses, root fractures, severe bone loss of the jaw and cystic lesions, so that they can be corrected during the procedure. Dental x-rays are especially imperative in pets due to their high tolerance of pain and inability to communicate it.
WHAT IS THE ORAL HEALTH PROCEDURE?
STEP 1: SUPRAGINGIVAL CLEANING
The tartar and plaque that is visible above the gum line is removed so that all surfaces of each tooth may be visualized.
STEP 2: SUBGINGIVAL CLEANING
This is cleaning the area under the gum line. In our animal patients, this is the most important step. The subgingival plaque and calculus are what cause periodontal disease. This is the most common ailment diagnosed in ALL animal patients. Cleaning the tooth surface above the gum line will make the teeth look nice, but in reality, does little medically for the patient.
STEP 3: ASSESSMENT
The veterinarian evaluates the entire oral cavity and records any abnormalities on a special dental record. Some examples of oral abnormalities are: tongue or lip lesions, deep pockets in the gums around the teeth and loose, broken or discolored teeth.
STEP 4: ADVANCED DENTAL IMAGING
Advanced Dental Imaging is taken of every tooth in the mouth to discover problems, such as retained roots, enamel defects, root abscesses and bone loss due to infection.
STEP 5: POLISHING
The mechanical removal of the plaque and calculus causes microscopic roughening of the tooth surface. This roughening increases the retentive ability of the tooth for plaque and calculus. Polishing will smooth the surface and decrease the adhesive ability of plaque.
STEP 6: SUB-GINGIVAL LAVAGE
The scaling and polishing of the teeth will cause a lot of debris to become trapped under the gums. This will cause local inflammation, as well as increase the chance of future periodontal disease. For this reason, we gently flush the gingiva with an antibacterial solution.
STEP 7: FLUORIDE TREATMENT
The benefit of fluoride is that it strengthens enamel, decreases tooth sensitivity, and is reported to slow the formation of Feline Oral Resorptive Lesions thanks to its anti-plaque qualities. Fluoride can be toxic if swallowed by dogs and cats; therefore, we carefully remove any excess fluoride from the mouth before waking your pet.
STEP 8: TREATMENTS
If any abnormalities were found during the assessment and Dental Advanced Imaging, various treatments may be recommended. Some examples of treatments are tooth extraction, bonded sealants of fractures and local antibiotic treatment of pockets around the teeth. The veterinarian will explain any abnormalities and discuss treatment options. We are happy to provide an estimate at each stage of this procedure.
STEP 9: PREVENTION
Prevention is one of the most important parts of the oral hygiene procedure.
Could my pet be in pain?
Our pets have a strong instinct to hide pain, so this can be difficult to recognize. Many times, they will mask the pain and owners may not even notice a difference in their pet’s eating or day-to-day routines. This is why our pets will continue eating, even if their teeth look or smell bad. Some lesser-known indications of pain include increased licking, altered or heavy breathing, changes in posture, and changes in sleep habits.
What is Periodontal disease?
Periodontal disease is an infection caused by bacteria that often begins within the first year or two of life. Periodontal disease (PD) often goes unsuspected and unrecognized until it reaches more advanced stages. It is a persistent and progressive infection that advances in cycles. The result of periodontal disease is discomfort, pain, and gum and bone destruction, coupled with eventual tooth loss. The pet’s body and immune system are forced to fight a chronic battle every minute of the day against the invading organisms.
Oral infections are sources of bacteria that can cause distant infections. Patients with an altered immune system are at increased risk for distant site infections. When an oral disease is present, bacteria may be released into the bloodstream every time they chew or engage in other oral activities. The intermittent release of bacteria into the bloodstream can have a significant, negative effect on your pet’s overall health and longevity.
The kidneys, liver, lungs, and heart may potentially be affected secondary to chronic periodontal disease.
What causes periodontal disease?
The cause of periodontal disease is plaque, and plaque is bacteria. The oral cavity is colonized by bacteria soon after birth. Once a tooth has erupted, the tooth surface and gingival sulcus are also colonized with bacteria. Even at a very early age, the bacteria can lead to gingivitis (gum swelling and redness). This is the beginning of the periodontal disease and is often evident before the permanent teeth have even erupted. Bad breath (halitosis) usually indicates an abnormal bacterial problem in the mouth.
As time goes on, the plaque builds up in layers and mineralizes (hardens) with calcium from the oral cavity. This very hard, brownish, unsightly material is called calculus and serves to provide even more surface area for plaque to adhere to. Although plaque and calculus build-up both above (supra-gingival) and below (sub-gingival) the gum line, it is the sub-gingival material that causes inflammation and infection.
To prevent gingivitis and more advanced stages of periodontal disease, plaque must be prevented from accumulating on and around the teeth. The single most effective means of removing plaque is by mechanical brushing. Most dogs and cats which have not received any form of oral hygiene will have gingivitis. The recommendation is daily brushing if the animal will allow it. Chew toys and other oral devices should be considered adjunctive treatment to brushing. These do not replace the need to brush teeth.
Veterinary dentists recommend yearly professional cleaning. This involves general anesthesia to allow thorough removal of both sub- and supra-gingival plaque and calculus. Hand scaling the plaque and calculus above the gum line accomplishes nearly nothing and provides a false sense of security.
Can Chronic Periodontal Disease cause other problems?
Chronic Periodontal Disease Can Have a Secondary Effect on the Kidneys, Liver, Lungs, and Heart.
Bacteria don’t wait long after an animal is born to start building up plaque and colonize the oral cavity. After a tooth has erupted with infection, the bacteria start to colonize its surface and the gingival sulcus surrounding it. Even before your pet’s permanent teeth have come in, the bacteria can cause gingivitis (gum swelling and redness). But this is only the beginning of the problems periodontal disease will cause.
As time goes by, layers of plaque build-up and then mineralize (harden) using calcium taken from the oral cavity; this creates an unsightly, resilient brownish substance known as calculus. The calculus then gives the plaque even more surface space on which to build up. Plaque and calculus can build up both above (supragingival) and below (sub-gingival) the gum line. Still, sub-gingival is the most egregious because it is the cause of inflammation and infection.
How do I prevent dental diseases?
egularly brushing your pet’s teeth is the single most effective way of maintaining your pet’s oral health. Just as in humans, teeth brushing removes residual food from the mouth and reduces plaque buildup. Dogs are more accepting of this procedure, while cats generally tend to resist it.
Ask your Veterinarian for training on the correct method of cleaning teeth. Be patient with your pet and be sure to reward him or her afterward with a healthy treat and lots of affection.
Do not wait for signs of gingivitis to appear. If you see plaque and calculus, it is time for a professional cleaning.
Treatment usually begins with the professional cleaning of your pet’s teeth. To properly clean a pet’s teeth, the pet must be placed under general anesthesia. The cleaning and polishing are performed by our licensed veterinary technician, under one of our doctors’ supervision. At this time, each tooth is individually evaluated. In more advanced cases of a disease, gum surgery or even extractions of a few or many teeth may be recommended to help control or prevent disease spread to adjacent teeth.
Treatments with medications of oral solutions, gels, and antibiotics may be required. Once the condition is controlled, home care becomes the main treatment to prevent a recurrence. There are dental diets available to our patients. Typically, dry foods may provide some cleansing benefit, particularly in comparison to moist, sticky foods. However, the dental cleaning provided is far from optimal.
There are dental foods available that effectively reduce plaque, calculus accumulation, and gingival inflammation. They are effective, convenient, provide good nutrition, and most pets accept them.
Be skeptical about purchases of dental treats. Most of the label claims of benefit to pets’ teeth with dental treats are unsubstantiated. Some of the softer, flat rawhide chips do have some benefits. We carry CET Dental Chews that are impregnated with enzymes that release upon chewing. These enzymes help prevent plaque accumulation.
Veterinary dentists recommend avoiding cow hoofs, bones, hard rawhides, and other hard objects because these may damage teeth. Nylon or rubber chew toys provide some cleaning action. These products may be beneficial but still do not replace the need for brushing and may cause intestinal obstruction if not monitored closely when chewed.