Dental disease is the most frequently diagnosed health problem in pets.
Did you know?
More than 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have dental disease by the age of three.
Imagine what your mouth would feel like if you never brushed your teeth or went to the dentist. For many dogs and cats, this is a painful reality. According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, more than 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have dental disease by the age of 3. Dental (or periodontal) disease is the most frequently diagnosed health problem in pets.
Common signs of dental disease include:
Yellow or brown buildup (tartar) on the teeth
Red, swollen, or bleeding gums
Changes in eating or chewing habits
Pawing at the face
Even if your dog or cat doesn’t have these symptoms, we recommend that you have a veterinarian evaluate your pet’s dental health at least once a year. Schedule your pet’s dental exam today! We can also help show you how to brush your pet’s teeth and recommend foods and treats that will help combat plaque and tartar buildup.
What can happen if my pet's teeth are left unchecked?
Bacteria and food debris accumulate around the teeth and, if left unchecked, will lead to deterioration of the soft tissue and bone surrounding the teeth. This decay can result in irreversible periodontal disease, tooth loss, and possibly expensive oral surgery. Dental disease can also affect other organs in the body: Bacteria in the mouth can get into the bloodstream and cause serious infections in the kidneys, liver, lungs, and heart. If these problems aren’t caught and treated quickly enough, they can result in death. A physical exam combined with appropriate laboratory work can determine if infection in the mouth has spread.
Do pets accumulate plaque?
Pets accumulate plaque that turns into tartar every 24 hours. This plaque is a film of bacteria that causes your pet's mouth to stink and can cause painful conditions like gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and periodontitis (breakdown of the ligaments and even bone in the jaw that hold the teeth in place). The most effective way to fight plaque and prevent tartar is by brushing your pet's teeth daily.
There are videos online that can walk you through brushing your pet's teeth, but in general, you'll want to start slow and get them used to having their face and lips touched. You can start by offering pet toothpaste on your finger while you touch their lips and gums. Once they are comfortable with that, you can wrap a piece of gauze or a thin washcloth around your finger and wipe their front teeth. When they are comfortable with that, you can peel their lips back and wipe your finger on their back teeth. When selecting a toothbrush, you'll want very soft bristles and a size that is appropriate for your pets' mouth. Extra-soft infant toothbrushes can be helpful for most dogs and cats.
Dental hygiene products such as dental chews, treats, and water additives can be helpful in plaque and tartar control. Look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal that is on products that have been clinically shown to help reduce plaque and tartar. An updated list of products can be found here.
At Intracoastal West, we carry CET dog chews, cat treats, and water additives for both dogs and cats. Finally, remember to account for any calories in dental chews and treats so that your pet doesn't gain unwanted weight while controlling their dental disease.
Process of Dental Appointments
1st Step: Dental Consultation | During a dental consultation, a full physical exam is performed to evaluate your pet’s oral health and overall health. We send out lab work to evaluate the health of your pet's organ systems. This is an important step to decrease anesthesia risks. We will also provide a treatment plan including expected costs
2nd Step: Anesthesia, radiographs, dental cleaning, +/- oral surgery
Handouts and Post-Operative Surgery Forms
Oral Surgery (Tooth Extractions)
Even with great at home dental care pets can require dental surgery. For teeth that are cracked, broken, or loose, removing those teeth is often the best way to get them feeling better fast. In some instances, referral to a specialized veterinary dentist may be recommended for advanced procedures such as crowns and root canals.
Pets do not sit still like humans do, even with local anesthesia. For their health and safety general anesthesia is required for all oral surgery.
Getting your pet’s teeth cleaned is a very similar process to when you get your teeth cleaned. The biggest difference is that your pet will be under general anesthesia for this procedure. Anesthesia is necessary to obtain dental radiographs (x-rays) that allow us to see the health of the teeth under the gum line. Often there is disease under the gum line that we cannot see without the benefit of radiographs.
A thorough oral exam is performed to look for things like oral masses that may not be seen on an awake exam. We use an ultrasonic cleaning system (just like your human dentist) to scale and polish the teeth.
Why is anesthesia needed for dental procedures in pets?
Only a limited oral exam and tartar removal above the gumline is possible without anesthesia. Dental anesthesia is critical for a complete, thorough cleaning for the following reasons:
An awake animal is unlikely to allow a veterinarian to poke around his mouth with dental instruments. A complete exam that allows the veterinarian to fully determine the extent of dental disease and oral problems only can be performed on an anesthetized patient.
Dental X-rays should be taken prior to every dental cleaning and anesthesia is required to keep pets still. Since 60% of a tooth is below the gumline, problems such as retained roots, root fractures, and periodontal disease only can be detected on radiographs. Without X-rays, many dental problems go undiagnosed and untreated.
A complete dental cleaning involves evaluation of pocket depth, tartar scaling above and below the gums, and polishing. Subgingival tartar removal, which is critically necessary to prevent dental disease progression, requires the insertion of dental instruments below the gumline, which can be uncomfortable.
Most patients will not hold still for tartar removal, which involves poking, prodding, bright lights, and sharp instruments. Even the limited cleaning that anesthesia-free dentistry permits is traumatic for a pet and may make him afraid to visit the veterinarian in the future.
Many pets hide painful dental problems and a proper dental cleaning can hurt sensitive teeth. Anesthesia allows your pet to rest pain-free throughout the cleaning, even when painful procedures, such as tooth extractions, are necessary.
A thorough dental exam and X-rays may reveal problems requiring immediate action that can't be treated without anesthesia. If your pet already is anesthetized, problems can be addressed immediately so he/she returns to you with a healthy mouth.