Dental Care at Home

At some point, most pets do need to go under anesthesia for a thorough dental cleaning. By taking some simple steps at home, however, you may be able to decrease the frequency these cleanings are needed and help prevent problems that result in more extensive dental work.

  • Brush your pet’s teeth! Even if you can’t brush every day, developing a routine with your pet is one of the most effective ways of stopping plaque and tartar buildup.
    • Introduce your pet to tooth brushing slowly using lots of praise. Start by introducing your finger into the mouth (dipping it in something tasty like broth or tuna helps!)
    • Keep sessions short and positive!
    • Once your pet tolerates your finger, you can slowly introduce a soft, wet toothbrush.
    • Once your pet tolerates brushing you can introduce him to a special veterinary toothpaste. Never use human toothpaste for your pet.
    • Don’t force it. Some pets do not allow their teeth to be brushed.  If your pet becomes irritated or aggressive, don’t push the issue.
  • Utilize products advocated by your veterinarian to help prevent plaque and tartar. Certain treats and foods have been shown to help prevent the buildup of plaque and tartar. These are particularly helpful for pets that do not tolerate brushing.  We would be happy to assist you in selecting products appropriate for your pet.
  • Avoid table scraps! These increase the speed at which plaque and tartar accumulate, as well as causing other problems.
  • See your vet. Your pet’s semi-annual wellness appointments are the best time to discuss your pet’s dental health and what further steps should be taken.
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Tuna Breath

Dental cleaning is important for all of our furry friends.  But did you know that cats are predisposed to several conditions besides periodontal disease that dogs do not experience?  These make dental examinations and cleanings even more important for our feline companions.

Feline gingivostomatitis is a condition in which the cat’s body becomes allergic to the plaque around the teeth.   Affected cats develop very painful swellings in the mouth that can cause difficulty eating and even grooming.  Many treatments exist may be tried, however often the most effective treatment is removal of all or most of the teeth.

Over half of kitties over the age of six will experience feline oral resorptive lesions.  This painful condition results when normal cells in the tooth called odontoblasts create holes in the tooth near the gumline similar to a cavity.  As these progress they can become infected and excruciatingly painful. The underlying cause for feline tooth resorption is unknown at this time.  Cats with this problem may show pain, exhibit drooling, bleeding from the mouth, or have difficulty eating. Treatment may include removing all or part of the affected teeth.

By allowing your veterinarian to perform recommended dental procedures these problems can be addressed early, allowing your cat to spend more time thinking about his catnip mouse and less time about a painful tooth.

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Behind Closed Doors…

Despite the best of efforts, most pets can benefit from having a dentistry performed at some point in their life.  In fact, you should plan for your pet to require a dental cleaning every 1-2 years after 3 years of age (this may vary between animals).  But what really happens when you drop your furry friend off for this procedure?

1. General anesthesia
In order for your veterinarian to provide the best care for your pet full anesthesia is required.  An awake animal will not tolerate a thorough cleaning and full examination of the mouth.  The veterinarian customizes a safe anesthetic protocol for each individual pet.  Anyone who claims to be able to perform this procedure without anesthesia likely does not have your pet’s best interest at heart.
2. Thorough oral exam and charting
The mouth and each tooth are extensively examined, a procedure that is impossible to fully do in a conscious animal.  Dental radiographs (x-rays) are often taken in order to identify problems with teeth that may appear normal on the surface.  Periodontal probing helps to identify disease.  Any concerns are noted on your animal’s dental chart and diseased tissues or teeth addressed.
4. Extractions and Surgical Treatments
Any diseased teeth or tissues identified during the examination and dental x-ray process will be addressed.  This may involve removing teeth that cannot be saved or that are causing your pet problems.
3. Scaling
Plaque and tartar is removed from above and below the gumline.  Cleaning the subgingival tooth (below the gumline) is vital to remove disease-causing bacteria.
4. Polishing
Scaling the teeth creates a slightly rough surface where plaque and calculus can accumulate.  Polishing smooths the tooth surface in order to make the effects of your pet’s dental cleaning last longer.
5. Additional treatments
Your veterinarian will apply a fluoride treatment in order to help keep your pet’s teeth healthy longer.  Other treatments such as the application of a barrier sealant may also be performed if deemed appropriate for your pet.

Most dental procedures are outpatient procedures.  Your veterinarian will provide instructions regarding home dental care and future recommendations. Once you bring your pet home you may be instructed to feed softer food for several days or administer medication for pain or infection at home.  Your pet may be a little groggy from the anesthesia for 24 hours or so, but should be back to normal fairly quickly.  It is natural to be a little nervous about any medical procedure, but understanding the process helps to make it a little less scary.  By allowing dentistry to be performed you can improve the quality and length of your pet’s life.

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February is Veterinary Dental Health Month!

Dental care is possibly one of the most overlooked aspects of caring for a pet.  We brush our teeth several times a day, visit the dentist a few times a year, and most of us still end up having an issue or two during our lifetime.  Pets are no different, yet some of them go their entire life without any dental care at all.  According to a study done by the American Veterinary Dental Association 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have some form of dental disease by the age of three!

Bacteria combine with saliva and food on the teeth and gums, causing plaque to form.  Eventually this becomes a hard substance called tartar.  The accumulation of plaque and tartar on the teeth can lead to inflammation and destruction of the tissues that support the teeth, resulting in periodontal disease.  Untreated this can lead to oral pain as well as the eventual loss of teeth.  Perhaps even more devastating is the damage that can be caused to other organs such as the liver, heart, and kidneys secondary to inflammation and infection.

Signs of oral disease include bad breath, changes in eating habits, and pawing at the face.  Some pets never show signs of a problem until it is too late, however.  Wellness checkups are the most effective means of detecting problems early and resolving them before permanent damage results. Make sure to ask your vet if it’s time for a dental check-up. Your pet will be glad you did!

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