Dentistry for Pets
Are you surprised to learn that 80% of companion animals have dental disease by the age of four?
Dental disease can involve changes to the gums, enamel, tooth roots, and even the jaw bone! Dental disease is also painful, and can lead to many other health issues. For most guardians, bad breath is the first noticeable signal that their companion might have dental issues. However, dental disease causes other visible symptoms including gingivitis (red, painful gums), tartar build up, pus coming from around the teeth, drooling, and even loss of teeth.
It is not uncommon for us to hear that clients did not have any idea of the degree of dental disease present, because their companion was still eating. There is a common misconception that an animal won’t eat if their mouth hurts – unfortunately, this is not the case. It is imperative that we examine your companion’s mouth regularly (we do this during each annual exam, for example) so that we can help you take action before severe dental disease and pain is present.
Not only is dental disease painful, but it is also linked to heart, liver, and kidney disease. Research has revealed that adequate dental care can add up to four years to your companion’s life! Unfortunately, once dental disease is present, there is no alternative to treat the disease other than a complete oral health assessment and treatment procedure. This procedure includes fully anesthetizing your companion, taking x-rays of their teeth, removing any diseased teeth, and cleaning the remaining healthy teeth above and below the gumline.
For a dental cleaning to be productive, your companion must be under general anesthetic. In this sedated state our veterinary team is able to fully assess their mouth, take digital radiographs, and appropriately clean their mouth. The same instruments and equipment that you would find at your dentist are used in pet dentistry. Plaque and tartar are removed by both an ultrasonic scaler and by hand-scaling above and below the gumline. The teeth are then polished to remove any microabrasions and make the surface smooth, helping to prevent future plaque accumulation.
Sometimes our physical examination and radiographs show teeth that are fractured, abscessed, or resorbing. We will surgically extract these teeth to remove the source of pain and possible infection. Each patient, as part of their dental procedure, receives intravenous fluids, pain control before, during and after the procedure, and post-dental consultation and care.
All patients return to the hospital for a complimentary examination one week after their dental procedure. At this time, we check that their mouth is healing well after their procedure (particularly if there were any extractions needed) and work with you to construct an at-home dental hygiene plan. This may include brushing, feeding a dental diet, giving dental treats, or applying gels to the mouth. Our goal after a dental procedure is to give you the tools to keep your companion’s mouth as healthy as possible.
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Maintenance and Prevention
We firmly believe that preventing disease and suffering is far superior to treating it once it is present. There are many things you can do as a proactive guardian of your companion’s health. To prevent dental disease from occurring in the first place we recommend frequent dental cleanings. Regular dental cleanings performed under general anesthetic will remove 100% of tartar and plaque from the teeth, and screen for any diseased teeth which may need to be removed.
The next best option is daily tooth brushing with an ultra-soft toothbrush and veterinary toothpaste (fluoride-free). The purpose of this toothpaste is to make the experience tasty and enjoyable for your companion; it is the mechanics of brushing the teeth that will scrape off accumulated plaque before it hardens. Toothbrushing time is a habit that is best formed when your companion is young, so that it becomes a regular part of their experience. Although toothbrushing can be started at any age, we understand that older animals may not appreciate this process. We have several strategies to help facilitate this, and we will be happy to work with you to introduce a toothbrushing practice. Regular brushing is truly worth the effort, as it helps prevent up to ~70% of plaque accumulations on your companion’s teeth!
For animals who will not tolerate brushing, other preventative measures include a veterinary dental diet. This food is specially formulated to scrape plaque off of teeth while your pet chews the kibble. This method can prevent ~30% of plaque accumulations on their teeth.
Other options for supporting your companion’s dental health include regularly providing dental treats which take at least 10 minutes to chew – these specially designed treats provide the opportunity to mechanically scrape plaque off the teeth while your companion chews. Finally, there are water additives which can help reduce plaque accumulation and improve bad breath. During your appointment, we will be happy to discuss the best maintenance and prevention approach for you and your companion.
What About Anesthetic-Free Cleaning?
We do not recommend or support the practice of ‘anesthetic-free teeth cleaning’. Because 50% of dental disease is hidden below the gumline (beyond the reach of a visual assessment), dental x-rays are required to determine the health of your companion’s teeth. To fully clean their teeth, plaque and tartar must be removed from above and below the gumline – this is simply not possible in an animal that is awake because of the level of discomfort involved. The bacteria that live below the gumline are different than the surface bacteria – these anaerobic organisms are more destructive, and truly must be addressed as part of an effective dental cleaning. By skipping the polishing step of cleaning, the surface of the teeth remains uneven – providing easy real estate for plaque to quickly re-accumulate. By cleaning only the visible portion of the teeth, these anesthetic-free cleanings can provide a false sense of security while masking pain and discomfort. This process can also be an uncomfortable and stressful one for your pet, having a stranger manipulate their mouth and teeth while they are awake. These cosmetic dental cleanings are not conducted by veterinary professionals, and therefore do not address diseased teeth or provide pain medication to keep your pet comfortable.