Dentistry for Dogs and Cats
Just like humans, dogs and cats suffer from dental disease. As humans, we go to visit the dentist when we have issues with our teeth. There are no animal dentists. Veterinarians are the only profession trained, equipped and licensed to provide dental care to animals. It makes sense that it be this way because poor oral health affects not only the teeth, but other body systems as well. The two most common issues we see affecting the health of pets that visit our examination rooms are obesity and dental problems.
Young puppies and kittens have baby teeth which are replaced by adult teeth by the time they are six months old. Baby teeth suffer little from disease, however, we need to pay attention to malocclusion issues and retained baby teeth to enable the adult teeth to come in properly. When you bring your puppy of kitten in for a health exam and vaccinations, we will check to see how the teeth are erupting and help you with plans to deal with developmental problems if they are present.
The other thing we like to get you started on is brushing your pets teeth. Not every client wants to do this, but if you can, it really helps reduce dental problems. We have special toothpaste (do not use human toothpaste) and brushes to make the job easier. We also have specially formulated Veterinary Prescription diets that help keep the teeth clean. These diets provide well balanced nutrition while aiding in preventing the formation of plaque and tartar.
Although pets suffer from an array of dental issues such as damaged teeth, abscesses, malocclusion, etc, the most common and preventable scenario we see is the accumulation of plaque which turns into tartar which eventually turns into calculus, a hard mineralized coating on the teeth. Calculus eventually causes gum disease which leads to infection in the gums, gum recession, bone loss, loose teeth, infected roots and eventually tooth loss. As you can well imagine, this can cause severe or even excruciating pain for your pet. Dental pain is no fun. The whole plaque to calculus cascade takes months to form, and many pets acclimatize to the pain since they know of nothing else. Unfortunately only when the pain becomes excruciating or the pet's mouth is very odorous does the owner notice.
Once your pet has significant gum disease, the infected and inflamed gums provide an open passage for mouth bacteria to enter the blood stream and travel throughout the body causing septicemia or specific internal organ disease of the heart, kidney, etc. So you can see it is not just all about the teeth, dental disease will lead to unnecessary PAIN and possibly serious systemic disease.
Above we mentioned prevention through brushing and feeding dental diets, but unfortunately that does not look after everything. Wild canines and felines eat foods that require lots of chewing and they likely do a pretty good job of maintaining their teeth. Our pets have very different diets, and also, we like our pets to live to a ripe old age and be able to use their teeth into their senior years. Even with your best efforts plaque and tartar will accumulate on your pet's teeth. This must be removed periodically or else the cascade toward gum disease will progress.
Just like in people, the rate of tartar accumulation will be variable from pet to pet. We recommend an annual wellness exam at which time we will examine your pet's teeth. Most pets will tolerate an oral exam pretty well.
One issue that complicates animal dentistry is that our pets will not just sit there and "say AHH " while we poke and prod around in their mouth. The initial examination done in the exam room would identify most of the issues of concern, however, it does not give us all the information we need. Further, proper cleaning of the teeth does not mean only scraping off the tartar and plaque one can see on the exposed crown of the tooth. Thorough cleaning involves removing all tartar and plaque both the exposed crown and below the gum line all around every tooth. We also probe each tooth looking for cracks, pulp exposures or other tooth disease. Questionable teeth will require an x-ray which definitely requires anesthesia to ensure the patient is still and that it does not bite on the several thousand dollar digital x-ray plate!.
No dog or cat will allow one to THOROUGHLY examine every part of the mouth, and definitely will not allow proper and complete cleaning, root scaling and polishing without general anesthesia. Modern anesthetic drugs, equipment, and monitoring have made general anesthesia very safe in our pets. Prior to giving anesthetic drugs, we run a diagnostic blood panel to check the general health status of your pet, and during the procedure, your pet will be given intravenous fluids and be constantly monitored by a licensed animal health technologist aided by state of the art monitoring equipment.
We would encourage you to consider dental care for your pets as one of the most important preventative health measures you can undertake to provide a comfortable and healthy long life for your companions.
There are many products to prevent dental disease on the market for pets. However, the vast majority of treats, contribute little or nothing to dental health, even if they are labeled " Tartar Control ". No proof of effectiveness is needed to put such a label on a treat: it is primarily a marketing gimmick.
Products approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council ( VOHG.org) at least have passed minimum required protocols to prove their efficacy. Please check out their website for approved dental products.