Dental (periodontal) disease is one of the most common chronic health conditions seen in pets. This condition involves far more than dirty teeth and “doggy breath.” It is a serious condition which can have serious consequences for our animal companions.
Dental and periodontal disease begin early in a pet’s life, with most dogs and cats showing signs of tartar and gum inflammation as early as two or three years old. Early signs of disease can include yellow buildup on teeth (tartar), bad breath, and red, swollen gums. Even mild signs of disease warrant intervention as they are the beginning stages of a progressive disease that can ultimately have serious consequences.
The Dangers of Dental Disease
Dental disease is progressive, starting with the early signs mention above. Over time, it can result in tooth pain, tooth root abscesses, tooth loss, gum disease, jaw bone loss, and even kidney, liver, or heart damage. These changes can be the source of chronic pain for our pets. For these reasons, good oral health has been shown to contribute to longer, happier, healthier lives for both pets and people.
The Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment and Treatment
Comprehensive veterinary dental cleanings are a core component of your pet’s wellness. A proper veterinary dental cleaning includes: hand and ultrasonic scaling both above and below the gumline, probing of sub-gingival pockets (which can be sites of infection), a comprehensive oral examination, thorough enamel polishing, and fluoride treatment. Additionally, full-mouth radiographs (X-rays) are essential for proper veterinary dental care. This allows the veterinary team to look for disease below the gumline which can include tooth-root abscesses, tooth root resorption, and bone loss.
Because a proper dental cleaning involves radiographs, full oral examination, and probing beneath the gumline, safe general anesthesia is essential for the procedure. While “anesthesia free” dentals may seem like an enticing alternative, they are both more stressful for the pet and they do not allow for comprehensive care and assessment of oral tissues. Pre-anesthetic bloodwork, IV fluids, and comprehensive vital sign monitoring help keep anesthesia safe so that dental care can be performed on your pet safely and stress free.
Dental disease is most easily treated in the early stages of the condition when it can often be resolved by a routine comprehensive veterinary dental cleaning. Pets with more severe dental disease may require extractions or other interventions.
Once your pet’s teeth have been addressed through veterinary dentistry, a comprehensive home care program can begin. The gold standard of home care is daily brushing. While this is most easily taught to young puppies and kittens, even adult pets can learn to accept this procedure if you start slowly and train them using positive techniques. For pets who don’t allow toothbrushing, there are other options such as dental health diets, dental health chews, toys that promote oral hygiene, and water and food additives. It should be noted that not all pet oral health products are created equal. Products approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) have been rigorously tested and proven to promote oral health. Finally, products that are very hard and/or are difficult to bend or break easily (such as antlers, bones, and synthetic bones) should be avoided as they can actually break teeth or chip tooth enamel.
February is National Dental Health Month. This is a great time to start thinking about your pet’s oral health! Addressing your pet’s dental health starts with a comprehensive veterinary examination. As part of this exam, your veterinarian will check your pet’s teeth and gums. They will be able to give you a professional assessment of your pet’s oral health and give you recommendations for steps to be taken for your pet’s oral (and general) health.
If you would like to schedule an appointment to evaluate your pet's oral health, please contact our hospital at (760) 736-3636 and set up an appointment with one of our experienced veterinarians.