Dental health in your pet may be more important than you think because dental problems can be a sign of disease or can be the initial cause of disease. It is always a good idea to have regular wellness checkups where your Wilton Manors veterinarian will conduct a thorough oral examination, checking teeth, gums, and mouth. If your veterinarian finds that your pet has inflamed gums, gingivitis, and dental tartar and plaque, a teeth cleaning may be recommended.

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What is a teeth cleaning?

Veterinary dentistry includes the cleaning, radiographs, scaling, extraction, or repair of your pets’ teeth and other aspects of oral health care. Dental procedures should always be performed by a licensed veterinarian, or a board-certified veterinary dentist. Depending on the state or country, veterinary technicians/nurses can perform certain dental procedures under the direct supervision of a veterinarian.

 

A dental visit starts with a thorough oral exam of your pet’s mouth by a veterinarian. Radiographs (x-rays) are done to examine the health of your pet’s jaw and tooth roots below the gumline. Most periodontal disease occurs below the gumline, where you can’t see it, so radiographs are useful for detecting these issues. Also, a thorough dental cleaning and evaluation should be performed under general anesthesia because chances are, your pet won’t sit still for a scaling and cleaning. According to the American Animal Hospital Association non-anesthetic dental cleanings can be more stressful for your pet and oral disease can go unnoticed and untreated. Dental cleaning includes scaling with an ultrasonic scaler that removes dental plaque and tartar, and polishing.  This process is basically the same process that your dentist uses to clean your teeth.

 

What are some signs of dental issues in cats and dogs?

Your pet’s teeth should be checked at least once a year by your veterinarian so they can detect any possible signs of impending dental issues.

 

If you notice the following signs in your pet, call your veterinarian and make an appointment.

  • Lack of appetite or reluctance to eat.
  • Bad breath.
  • Extra teeth or retained baby teeth.
  • Broken, loose or wiggly teeth.
  • Chattering of the teeth.
  • A painful mouth.
  • Swelling around the mouth and below the eye.
  • Bleeding from the mouth.
  • Discolored teeth.
  • Heavy tartar and cement-like deposits on teeth.
  • Excessive drooling, dropping food.
  • Changes in behavior, irritability.

 

What causes dental problem in cats and dogs?

The causes of dental problems in pets are similar to causes seen in humans.

  • Periodontal and gum disease.
  • Broken teeth, broken tooth roots.
  • Cysts, tumors, or growths in the mouth.
  • Dental abscesses.
  • Palate defects such as cleft palates (more prevalent in short-nosed breeds).
  • Malocclusion, or a misalignment of the upper and lower jaws.
  • Jaw or maxillary fractures.
  • Excess tartar buildup.

 

Periodontal disease

The most common cause of dental problems in pets is periodontal disease, which can emerge as early as three years of age. Early detection and treatment are important, because untreated periodontal disease can lead to severe health problems for your pet down the road, such as kidney, liver, and heart issues. 

Periodontal disease starts when dental plaque hardens into tartar. Plaque consists of sticky deposits on the teeth that are created by bacteria. Tartar is the cement-like looking material that hardens on the surface of the tooth, visible just above the gumline. Plaque and tartar that rest below the gumline are damaging, and can set your pet up for infection, and resorption of alveolar bone (the type of bone found in the upper and lower jaws). Plaque build-up can also affect the issues that connect the teeth to the jaw bones.

Veterinarians grade periodontal disease on a scale of 0 (normal) to 4 (severe). Grade 0 means no plaque or gingivitis, Grade 1 means mild gingivitis and plaque, Grade 2 means mild to moderate tartar and gingivitis, and Grade 3 means heavy tartar and periodontal disease, with some bone loss in the surrounding jawbone.  Tooth fractures may be present.  Finally, Grade 4 periodontal disease means severe tartar, periodontal disease, possibly loose teeth, fractured teeth, and oral pain. 

 

In addition to causing damage and infection to your pets’ mouth, periodontal disease can also cause widespread damage to your pet’s body and internal organs if not treated. For example, the more sinister side-effects of advanced periodontal disease is endocarditis, where bacteria from the mouth enters the bloodstream, and lodges in the valves of the heart, in turn causing inflammation and heart damage.  Bacteria in the bloodstream can also damage the membranes of the kidneys, causing them to malfunction. In addition, oral bacteria can also infiltrate the liver, and cause liver damage (1). This is why it’s important to schedule regular exams with your veterinarian, so that you can avoid serious health issues down the road.

 

How is periodontal disease treated?

The best treatment for periodontal disease in your pet involves a thorough dental cleaning, scaling, and polishing with dental radiographs. Radiographs are especially helpful when evaluating your pet’s dental health as they can detect possible problems not visible to the naked eye.  Even though you may be diligent in brushing your pets teeth, and promoting good dental health by offering dental chews, and keeping your pet healthy and happy, chances are you’ll have to schedule a dental cleaning with your veterinarian at some point. 

 

What happens when my dog has a dental cleaning?

The American Animal Hospital Association recommends that dental procedures are performed under anesthesia, your veterinarian will be sure to conduct a thorough physical examination and perform blood work prior to the procedure to ensure that your dog’s liver and kidneys can adequately process anesthetic agents. If the blood work is good, and any other diagnostics are normal, then your pet will be ready for a dental cleaning. The process usually entails the placement of an IV (intravenous) catheter, IV fluids, a preanesthetic dose to help your animal relax, and then the induction period when your pet is placed under anesthesia. Just as with humans undergoing general anesthesia, your veterinarian will closely monitor vital signs such as blood pressure, oxygen saturation, heart function, body temperature, and other cardio-respiratory values.  Your veterinarian will conduct a thorough oral exam, just as a human dentist would, and evaluate the dental radiographs. After the procedure, your pet will be placed in recovery where post-procedure vitals are monitored. Most dental cleanings are same day procedures which means you drop your cat or dog off in the morning and pick up later in the day once they are fully recovered from anesthesia.

 

Regular exams with your veterinarian are crucial in keeping your cat and dog healthy and happy, and this includes regular dental exams and cleanings as well.  If you have any questions about dental procedures and your pet, consult your veterinarian.

 

Sources:

 

  1. https://www.dvm360.com/view/dvm360-s-new-editorial-advisory-board-to-help-guide-content
  2. https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/pet-owners/petcare/pet-dental-care
  3. https://www.avma.org/javma-news/2019-05-01/2019-aaha-dental-care-guidelines-dogs-and-cats-released