Many pet owners are shocked to learn that their pets require routine dental care. In fact, roughly 80% of dogs and cats have signs of dental disease by age 3. If you consider that people should visit the dentist twice a year for cleanings, it should come as no surprise that our pets have similar needs. Without proper care, dental disease can lead to numerous health problems, but fortunately, it is entirely preventable.
Does my pet have dental disease?
Depending on the disease severity, your pet may exhibit more signs than bad breath. By gently lifting your pet’s lips and examining her teeth, you may be able to see evidence of tartar build-up. While plaque creates a gummy film on the tooth surface and can be challenging to see, tartar (i.e., an accumulation of plaque) has a characteristic thick, rough, often brown appearance that usually forms along and under the gum line. In addition to plaque and tartar, you may notice reddened, irritated, or bleeding gums, which indicates gingivitis and periodontal disease. Moreover, you may see other abnormalities, such as broken, worn, or loose teeth, retained baby teeth, or teeth crowding. Your veterinarian can examine your pet orally to determine an appropriate treatment plan.
Is my pet in pain?
Most pets are stoic creatures who are experts at hiding pain. Many pets with dental disease will happily continue to scarf down their food or chew on toys, while more sensitive pets may exhibit noticeable signs. Keep an eye out for the following signs, remembering they will not be displayed by all affected pets:
- Chewing more slowly or carefully
- Dropping food from the mouth
- Preference for softer food
- Bleeding from the mouth
- Pawing at the mouth
- Foul mouth odor
- Facial swelling
- Unwillingness to be touched near the face or mouth
How does dental disease affect my pet’s overall health?
Dental disease is not only unpleasant for your pet, but also can lead to other serious health problems. Untreated dental tartar is associated with painful conditions such as gingivitis, tooth-root exposure, bone loss, and abscessation. When the accumulation of bacteria in the mouth enters the bloodstream through a lesion in the oral cavity, other severe conditions can ensue, such as bacterial endocarditis, an infection caused by the bacteria when they reach the heart valves. Severe dental disease can also negatively impact the liver and kidneys.
What does my pet need for proper dental care?
If your pet has evidence of dental disease and is deemed healthy enough to undergo anesthesia, your veterinarian will likely recommend a dental cleaning. Hand or ultrasonic scaling is necessary to remove tartar accumulation, and while people will readily allow a dentist or hygienist to clean their teeth with sharp tools, most animals will not tolerate this. Since tartar often accumulates underneath the gum line, its removal can be painful. For the safety and comfort of your pet and the veterinary team, general anesthesia is necessary to perform a thorough dental cleaning. Don’t worry—we will perform a pre-anesthetic examination and recommend full blood work before the procedure to ensure your pet is a good candidate for anesthesia.
Do pets need dental X-rays?
Dental disease often involves more than can be seen on the surface, and lesions can lurk below the gum line. For this reason, dental X-rays are routinely recommended. While our pets don’t typically suffer from cavities like people, they are subject to different types of tooth and bone lesions that require X-rays for diagnosis.
Is there anything I can do at home?
Yes—brushing the teeth alone cannot remove stubborn calculus, but it can prevent build-up of plaque, the precursor to tartar. Routine brushing at least three times per week is beneficial to your pet’s oral health and to prevent dental disease. Other oral-hygiene products are available for pets, including oral rinses, gels, water additives, and dental chews, but these products generally do not remove plaque as efficiently as tooth brushing. Your veterinarian can recommend specific products for your pet’s individual needs.
Contact us to schedule an appointment for an oral health examination, and for tips on how to begin an at-home oral-care regimen for your pet.