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Dental Health for Your Pet

(For more information on dental care after reading the article below, visit our Video Newsroom link under Veterinary Topics to the right on this page.)

Routine dental care is important for maintaining good oral and systemic health. Dental disease is a serious concern as an overgrowth of bacteria in the mouth can lead to disease in other parts of the body including the heart, kidneys, and lungs. Just as your dentist recommends yearly teeth cleanings most animals need regular professional dental care in addition to at home brushing.

Dental Disease and Periodontal Disease

Dental disease starts when bacteria in the mouth create a film on the teeth called plaque. This plaque, if not routinely brushed off, calcifies to form tartar or calculus. Once tartar has formed, only a professional dental scaling and polishing will remove it. The tartar and associated bacteria cause gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums surrounding the teeth. The plaque and bacteria are then able to move below the gum line and if left untreated can cause the separation of the tooth from its bony socket. This is very painful for our four-legged friends and can be prevented with regular oral care.

What You Can Do

At home dental care is the first step in preventing the accumulation of plaque. With regular teeth brushing at home, professional cleanings are needed less often. Most dogs and many cats will learn to tolerate at home brushing with positive reinforcement and a patient approach. Soft rubber fingertip covers are available or soft bristled toothbrushes. In addition, specially formulated dog and cat toothpaste should be used as it doesn’t contain fluoride which can be irritating to your pet’s stomach and toxic in larger amounts.

If teeth brushing is not an option either due to your lifestyle or your pets ability to tolerate it there are other options. Dental treats are specially formulated to help remove plaque buildup before it becomes tartar. In addition there are water additives and mouth rinses that help slow the formation of plaque. For more information please stop by the clinic and speak with our front office staff.

If you notice that despite your efforts at home to brush their teeth they still have bad breath, red gums, bleeding or seem painful when brushing or a decreased appetite these can be signs that a professional cleaning is needed.

Professional Dental Cleanings

When your pet does need a professional cleaning they will come into the hospital for the day. We recommend all professional cleanings be performed under anesthesia. This allows us to fully evaluate the mouth as well as to provide the best in oral care for your pet. While under anesthesia we scale the teeth similarly to how your dental hygienist scales your teeth. In addition, we check the gum line for pockets or areas where the tooth and the gum have separated. Pockets are a sign of periodontal disease. If pockets are present we curette underneath the gums to remove any plaque that’s built up there. This allows the gums to adhere to the teeth if the pockets are not too deep. We then polish the teeth and provide a fluoride treatment.

In some cases, dental disease has progressed to the point that extractions or referral to a veterinary dentist may be needed. Some of these situations include deep pockets that have compromised the tooth’s stability, cavities, fractured teeth with exposed roots, and some autoimmune diseases. Often pet owners are concerned that their pets won’t be able to eat following extraction of teeth. Most pets adapt remarkably well and usually only have to eat moistened dry food or canned food for a few days following the procedure. In addition, we administer pain medication prior to any extractions and will dispense enough to go home with your pet to keep them comfortable following these procedures.

“No Anesthesia” Teeth Cleaning

There have recently been more businesses popping up offering professional cleanings without anesthesia. This is a misnomer as the cleaning that they are performing is actually only cracking tartar off the teeth. Not only are they unable to reach the inside of the teeth they do not polish or scale the teeth and have no way to check for pockets and curette the gum line. Additionally, the practice of cracking tartar off the teeth can potentially fracture an unhealthy tooth. As such the American Veterinary Medical Association maintains the position that these cleanings are not beneficial and potentially harmful to your pet. It is also illegal in the state of North Carolina for anyone other than a licensed veterinarian (or veterinary technician under their supervision) to perform a dental procedure. These laws were made with your pet’s safety in mind. If you have any questions, please feel free to call our office at any time.