Dental disease is an often overlooked threat to the comfort and health of your pet. Because dental disease often has few readily apparent signs, we often only spot it during routine wellness examinations. Following this exam, your veterinarian may recommend a particular dental cleaning schedule, oral care routine, or special treatment based on your pet’s dental health needs.
How Do I Know If My Pet Has Dental Disease?
Dental disease is the most common disease seen by veterinarians. As many as 70-85% of pets over the age of two have some form of dental disease. Here are some signs that your pet may have dental disease:
- Bad breath
- Yellow, brown, or discolored teeth
- Loose teeth
- Red, inflamed gums
- Swollen mouth, jaws, or gums
- Doesn’t play with chew toys as often
- Pain when eating
The Dangers of Dental Disease for Pets
Just like people, pets develop periodontal infections and tooth root abscesses. Pets cannot communicate when they have a toothache, so dental disease in pets often progresses to a very serious health problem.
Periodontal disease is a bacterial infection in the roots of the teeth and the bony structures that cradle the teeth. The bacterial infection eats away the bone and causes the teeth to loosen and eventually fall out. The mouth also becomes a source of hazardous infection to the pet as the bacteria can spread through their blood to their internal organs. Your pet’s heart, kidneys, and liver are especially susceptible to infections that originate from an infected mouth.
Every wellness examination performed by one of our veterinarians includes an oral exam to determine the health of your pet’s teeth and gums. We evaluate dental disease according to a standardized rating system:
Grade 1: The gums are red and inflamed from tartar and infection (gingivitis), but the infection has not yet spread to the tooth root and bony structures (periodontitis). The gums may be tender, but the tooth is not painful. The condition is completely reversible with a dental cleaning and home care.
Grade 2: The infection has spread from the gums to the deeper tissues and is starting to destroy the bone around the tooth. The gums are tender and there may be mild pain in the tooth. There might be a noticeable odor. The condition is still reversible with regularly scheduled subgingival dental cleanings and home care.
Grade 3: The infection has eaten away at the gums (receded gums) and is destroying the bone around the tooth. The gums are tender and may bleed when touched. There is pain in the tooth and surrounding area and a noticeable odor. The condition may be irreversible, but if the tooth is still solid, the infection can be controlled with regularly scheduled subgingival dental cleanings and a rigorous home care schedule.
Grade 4: The infection has receded the gums away from the tooth root and destroyed the bone around the tooth. There is significant pain in the tooth and surrounding area. An odor is noticeable. The condition is usually irreversible for the tooth, which must be extracted in order to alleviate pain and eliminate the infection in the gums and surrounding bone.
If your pet is diagnosed with dental disease, we will recommend anesthesia for a dental evaluation and cleaning. We require anesthesia in pets for a proper dental evaluation and treatment to prevent your pet from experiencing anxiety or pain. It also allows your pet’s dental team complete access to their teeth.
At Animal Medical Hospital & 24 Hour Urgent Care, we take care to reduce the risks of anesthesia by following a proactive protocol to assess our patients and monitor their care throughout the entire procedure, including pre-anesthetic testing, inhalant gas, electronic monitoring, and intravenous fluids. We also perform pre-surgical blood work for each of our patients prior to placing them under anesthesia.
Most pets will go home the same day after their dental cleaning. It is normal for pets to be groggy and either sleepy or restless for twelve to twenty-four hours after the procedure due to the anesthetic and pain medications. Their appetite and behavior will return to normal in one to two days.
Dental Evaluation & Cleaning
DENTAL CLEANING STEP 1: Radiographs
At Animal Medical Hospital & 24 Hour Urgent Care, we include full-mouth radiographs (x-rays) with every anesthetic dental evaluation. These images allow us to see beyond the external surface and spot potential issues like root fractures, unerupted or embedded teeth, bone loss, resorptive lesions, tumors, and abscesses.
DENTAL CLEANING STEP 2: Hand Scaling
The dental evaluation and cleaning starts with hand scaling the tartar off and doing a thorough examination of the teeth, checking for loose teeth, fractures, and using a dental probe to search for pockets. Pockets are areas where the gums have pulled away from the tooth and tartar and infection has accumulated.
DENTAL CLEANING STEP 3: Charting
We write down all observations about each tooth and create a "map" of the pet's mouth.
DENTAL CLEANING STEP 4: Ultrasonic Cleaning
Next, the teeth are thoroughly cleaned using an ultrasonic dental cleaner to loosen and remove all tartar and debris from the teeth and under the gums.
DENTAL CLEANING STEP 5: Polish
We then polish the now sparkling teeth with a high-speed polisher to smooth the surfaces and slow future tartar accumulation.
DENTAL CLEANING STEP 6: Fluoride Treatment
Finally, we apply a foaming fluoride to protect and strengthen the teeth.
DENTAL CLEANING STEP 7: Oravet® Barrier Sealant
Once the teeth are completely dry, we apply a sealant to create an invisible barrier that helps prevent plaque-forming bacteria from attaching for up to two weeks. This gives the gingiva enough time to heal from the cleaning before the owner starts on the daily oral health care routine at home.
The dental cleaning will treat reversible cases of dental disease in most cases. However, in the event that the physical exam and dental x-rays reveal a more serious concern, your veterinarian will contact you to discuss treatment options. Commonly performed treatments include:
- Tooth extractions on teeth that are irreversibly diseased. This includes teeth that have no blood supply, infected teeth that have damaged surrounding bone structure, and teeth that cause pain.
- Adding gingival flaps to provide access to treat or clean the roots under the gumline and to close oronasal fistulas or other defects in the gingiva caused by dental disease.
- Bonding of defects or breaks in the enamel with a light-cured acrylic bonded sealant. Bonding will immediately seal exposed dentinal tubules, which are filled with nerve endings. The seal will help to prevent infection, decrease pain, and speed up the healing response.
- Treatment of periodontal pockets with Doxirobe Gel. A single dose of this antibiotic gel treatment can reduce periodontal pocket depth, increase reattachment, and reduce gingival inflammation.
Dental Home Care
Home care alone will not remove tartar or treat infection, but it can greatly reduce future tartar accumulation and reduce the frequency of future dental procedures. It will also keep your pet's breath smelling fresher!
It is important to keep in mind that plaque (the soft film that develops on teeth and composed of food particles, saliva, and bacteria) calcifies into hard tartar within twenty-four hours. This means that home care must be provided at least ONCE DAILY to be effective.
Options for Home Care include:
- Hill's® Science Diet® Oral Care food
- Oravet chews
- Tooth brushing with pet toothpaste
Brushing the teeth every day with a special pet toothpaste (do not use human toothpaste) is the best way to reduce tartar and gingivitis. Most pets love the taste of the pet toothpaste and can be easily taught to accept brushing. A few pointers for success:
- Brushing must be done every day to be effective, so find a way to make it part of your daily routine. Maybe you can brush your pet's teeth every night before you brush your teeth?
- Start slowly so your pet does not become afraid or resistant. Start with paste on your finger, be gentle, and work your way up to a finger brush, toothbrush, or spinner brush.
- As your pets accept it, brush the outside surface of all the teeth, gently lifting the lip to get the teeth in the back. It is not usually possible or necessary to brush the inside surface (by the tongue) as this surface builds less tartar than the outside.
- Make it fun and give lots of praise. Pretty soon your pet will look forward to it every day!
Call (704) 334-4684 to schedule a dental checkup for your pet.