Dental health in pets is just as important as it is in people. Poor dental health can result in a multitude of issues, which is why we offer free dental examinations to all patients (including new ones)! Most people visit the dentist regularly and we want to encourage the same standards for all pets and create more awareness about the importance of dentistry. We want to promote healthy mouths and healthy lifestyles for all of your furry best friends!
Why does my pet need a dental examination?
Just like in humans, dental health is an integral part of an overall healthy animal. Not only can poor oral hygiene/disease affect the mouth of your pet, but it can also affect other vital organs if left untreated. In some cases, severe infections created from nasty bacteria present in the mouth are able to spread to the cardiovascular system among other vital organs, via the bloodstream – which is definitely not good! A dental examination will help determine the best treatment plan for your pet, whether it be preventative tooth brushing, a prophylactic dental scaling and polishing, or for more advanced disease, dental extractions.
The main concern for the dental health of pets is periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is a serious but very preventable issue in veterinary dentistry and is a term used to describe infection and inflammation of the periodontium (the tissues surrounding the tooth). The periodontium primarily consists of four different tissues: the gingiva, the alveolar bone, cementum (which covers the root of the tooth) and the periodontal ligament (attaches the root of the tooth to the surrounding alveolar bone).
Studies show that approximately 80% of dogs and cats over the age of three show signs of periodontal disease and require dental treatment. Periodontal disease is the most common disease affecting pets.
What are the common signs of periodontal disease?
Periodontal disease can present itself in many different ways and forms, checking in on your pet’s oral health and keeping an eye out for early indications of periodontal disease can increase the quality and longevity of your pets’ life.
Common signs of periodontal disease include the following:
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Red, swollen or irritated gums
- Decreased appetite
- Salivating when eating, dropping kibble from the mouth or only eating on one side of the mouth
- Weight loss
- Yellow/brown material on the surface of the teeth (plaque and calculus)
- Loose or missing teeth
If you happen to notice any of these signs in your pet, or have any questions or concerns, please feel welcome to give us a call to set up a FREE dental examination with one of our licensed veterinarians!
Why does periodontal disease occur?
The main culprit to blame for periodontal disease is the bacteria present inside of the mouth. The mouth is home to many different types of bacteria which are constantly multiplying daily. When this bacteria builds up over time it creates a thin film over the teeth (a biofilm) which is more commonly known as plaque. Plaque is present in humans as well as dogs and cats, and it is the action of brushing our teeth daily that prevents this plaque from building up and calcifying. If not brushed properly, plaque will build up on the teeth and will eventually harden and turn into calculus (also known as tartar). Calculus is not as easily removable as plaque which is why we recommend daily tooth brushing as the best defense against periodontal disease. If calculus has developed on the teeth, a dental scaler will need to be utilized to remove it. Unfortunately, the procedure to remove the calculus does require the affected pet to undergo general anesthesia.
The most threatening part of this bacteria is when it decides to travel below the gum line. When this occurs, the body recognizes the bacteria as a foreign invader and sends an army of white blood cells to fight off the bacteria. When this inflammatory response occurs, bone loss, tissue damage, gingivitis and eventually tooth loss are all common results.
How do you prevent dental disease?
Daily brushing of the teeth is the best defense against periodontal disease. Brushing of the teeth creates an abrasive action that mechanically removes debris and unwanted plaque from the teeth. Unfortunately, many pet owners find it difficult to do with their busy schedules.
Special dog foods, chewing toys and water additives can also be formulated to help remove plaque from the teeth mechanically and/or chemically in an effective, although less effective way than tooth brushing. Look for a dental food or talk to your veterinarian about a food that has been approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) for the best products! An annual dental exam is also a great way to monitor and keep your furry best friends oral hygiene in check!
How to Brush your Pet’s Teeth
Brushing your pet’s teeth is not always the easiest job in the world; especially if you have never done it before, it can seem quite intimidating! We would like to introduce ways that make the activity more enjoyable, fear free, and beneficial for both parties involved! Dogs and cats need to be eased into the idea of tooth brushing which is why beginning to brush the teeth is the most difficult obstacle, but we are here to provide tips and assistance every step of the way!
It’s very important that your pet does not fear the idea of tooth brushing, it is always best to start slow! A good start would be to slowly acquaint your pet to the idea of his/her mouth being touched. Sitting down and gently lifting your pet’s lips is a great place to begin – if they are okay with this, give them praise, reward them with a tasty treat and continue to reinforce this positive association. Carry on with this activity until your pet is comfortable with their lips and mouth being touched.
After your pet has become accustomed to their mouth being handled, a pet friendly toothbrush, or just a small piece of gauze on your finger may enter the picture. Place a small amount of peanut butter onto the toothbrush, or gauze, and allow your pet to lick it off while continuing to praise them. Once your pet is comfortable with steps 1 and 2 it is time to combine the procedures. Next, you will want to slowly advance the toothbrush, or gauze, with peanut butter under their lips and onto their teeth if they will allow it. If they react negatively to this, stop, and go back to the previous stage. Practice using this technique in different areas of the mouth until they do not mind the presence of the toothbrush or gauze while continuing to reward them. Creating a positive atmosphere is very important! If you choose to begin by using gauze on your finger, attempt advancing to a pet friendly toothbrush once they have become comfortable with the gauze.
Once your pet has become comfortable with the toothbrush, a pet friendly toothpaste may be purchased and can replace the peanut butter. It is not expected that your pet will allow you to brush all of their teeth on the first go, take it slow, try a few teeth at a time, and make sure to acknowledge their personal cues if they are becoming stressed or frightened. If this occurs, give them a break and revisit the situation later in the day or go back to the previous step if they continue to seem stressed or frightened by the toothbrush. Always make sure to continue to praise and give rewards to your pet when they are doing a good job or allowing you to brush their teeth. Eventually they may begin to anticipate and look forward to brushing as it becomes more of a regular routine!
With all of that said, every animal is going to learn and accept brushing at their own pace, if you are not successful right away do not give up! Slow down, and begin the process again. Make sure to have patience with your pet as this is a new experience for them as well! Once brushing becomes a positive experience for your pet, all of the hard work will be worth it! Please also remember to check out our how-to videos on our website for further pointers!
What does a dental procedure involve?
After a thorough examination of your pet’s mouth, a dental procedure may be recommended due to any of the above mentioned issues. Pre-anesthetic blood work is recommended prior to your pet undergoing anesthesia to assess their kidney and liver function, and also to help in determining the safest anesthetic protocol. Coagulation blood work may also be recommended if dental extractions are anticipated, as it would be ideal to detect any bleeding issues prior to dental extractions. Sometimes, antibiotic therapy is also warranted a few days prior to your pet’s dental to help reduce the amount of harmful bacteria that may enter their bloodstream.
Once your pet is anesthetized and ready for his/her dental procedure, full mouth radiographs will be taken of the teeth by one of our Registered Veterinary Technicians (RVT’s). This will help the veterinarian identify if there are more serious issues going on beneath the gum line that are not visible to the naked eye, such as bone loss, retained roots, root resorption, or tooth root abscesses. Following the radiographs, the doctor will complete a full exam of the mouth utilizing information from the radiographs, assessing the mobility, amount of calculus present on the teeth and other notable remarks such as missing or extra teeth within the mouth. Once this has been noted, the doctor will discuss with the owner of the pet if they feel any extractions are necessary or further concerns they may have. After completing extractions (if needed), one of our RVT’s will scale and polish your pet’s teeth to remove all plaque and tartar above and below the gum line. An RVT will be present throughout the entire dental procedure to make sure that the anesthesia is being properly and carefully monitored at all times.
If you are concerned that your pet may be suffering from periodontal disease or would just like a check in on their oral hygiene please take advantage of our free oral exam! We would love to hear from you! February is dental awareness month – If you bring your pet in for a free dental examination and book them in for a dental procedure you will receive 10% off the cost of our dental packages!