Dental care for pets
Dental Care for Pets
Dogs and cats need dental care too! Because they cannot do it themselves, they are completely dependent on their owners and veterinary team to do it for them. Think about how your teeth feel if you skip brushing; now imagine what happens in a pet’s mouth that never receives dental care.
Good dental care begins at home. Daily tooth brushing is the best home dental care for your pet. There are many flavored toothpaste options for pets that they may learn to accept. There are also many veterinary diets, treats, and oral rinses designed to help reduce accumulation of plaque and tartar on the teeth. See VOHC.org for a list of accepted products.
What is a professional dental cleaning, and why do pets need this?
A professional dental cleaning accomplishes several things.
First, all the existing plaque and tartar is removed from the tooth surfaces. Plaque is a soft film with bacteria that accumulates quickly on the tooth surface but can be brushed away. Within a few days, the plaque can start to become calcified (hardened) on the tooth. This is tartar, which must be removed by a professional cleaning. It cannot be brushed away. The bacteria in plaque and tartar starts to cause inflammation of the gums which progresses to bone loss and tooth loss. Pets should have at least a yearly exam to evaluate their teeth and see if they need a dental cleaning. If they have bad breath, visible tartar, or redness of the gums, then it’s definitely time for a cleaning.
Second, if the cleaning is done under anesthesia, it allows for a complete exam of the teeth and oral cavity. This includes probing for areas of bone loss and inflammation under the gums as well as dental radiographs (x-rays) to evaluate the roots of the teeth. Using similar equipment this is the same process done by human dentists.
Third, if the cleaning is done under anesthesia, it allows for treatment of any areas with periodontal disease found with radiographs or by probing. Periodontal disease involves bacteria and inflammation and causes bone loss around the teeth. This occurs much more commonly in pets than in people since they don’t brush their teeth regularly. If caught early, the area can potentially be treated and the tooth saved. However, it is progressive and once past a certain point, the tooth should be removed.
The inflammation involved in periodontal disease causes chronic pain in the mouth. Sometimes we find abscessed teeth (infection within the tooth), even though the pet is still eating and acting normal. We know from people that this is very painful. While it is great to give our patients a nice white smile again and good breath, the best is knowing that they are going home with a pain-free mouth.
People often worry when multiple teeth are affected and need to be removed. Their main concern is if the pet will be able to eat without those teeth. The answer is yes! Even with many teeth removed, they often can return to eating their regular diet. There are many times when owners have seen a big improvement in energy level and playfulness after multiple tooth extractions. This is a testament to how much pain pets can live with without showing obvious signs, and also how much better they feel when that pain is gone.