February is Pet Dental Month

Dog teeth

There is a reason it is called dog’s breath and it goes for cats too!

That odour mean a serious health risk, with the ​potential to damage not only your pet's teeth and gums, but its internal organs too.

Dental health is a very important part of your pet’s overall health and dental problems could cause, or be caused by, other health problems. Your pet’s teeth and gums should be checked at least once a year by your veterinarian to check for early signs of a problem and to keep your pet’s mouth healthy.

What is veterinary dentistry and who should perform it?

Veterinary dentistry includes the cleaning, adjustment, filing, extraction, or repair of your pets' teeth. These procedures should be performed by a veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary dentist. Subject to state or provincial regulation, veterinary technicians are allowed to perform certain dental procedures under the supervision of a veterinarian.

The process starts off with an oral exam of your pet’s mouth by a veterinarian. X-rays may be needed to evaluate the health of the jaw and the tooth roots below the gum line where most dental disease occurs where you can’t see it. A thorough dental cleaning and evaluation are performed under anaesthesia. Dental cleaning includes scaling (to remove dental plaque and tartar) and polishing, similar to the process used on your own teeth during your regular dental cleanings.

Have your pet’s teeth checked sooner if you observe any of the following problems:

  • Bad breath
  • Broken or loose teeth
  • Extra teeth or retained baby teeth
  • Teeth that are discoloured or covered in tartar
  • Abnormal chewing, drooling, or dropping food from the mouth
  • Reduced appetite or refusal to eat
  • Pain in or around the mouth
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Swelling in the areas surrounding the mouth

Some pets become irritable when they have dental problems and any changes in your pet’s behaviour should prompt a visit to your veterinarian. Always be careful when evaluating your pet’s mouth, because a painful animal may bite.

Causes of pet dental problems

Cavities are less common in pets than in people but they could have many of the same dental problems people develop:

  • Broken teeth and roots
  • Periodontal disease
  • Abscesses or infected teeth
  • Cysts or tumours in the mouth
  • Malocclusion or misalignment of the teeth and bite
  • Broken (fractured) jaw
  • Palate defects (such as cleft palate)

Periodontal disease is the most common dental condition in dogs and cats. By age three your pet would show evidence of periodontal disease if any. This will worsen as your pet grows older if effective preventive measures aren’t taken. Early detection and treatment are critical, because advanced periodontal disease can cause severe problems and pain for your pet. Periodontal disease doesn’t just affect your pet’s mouth. Other health problems found in association with periodontal disease include kidney, liver, and heart muscle changes.

It starts with plaque that hardens into tartar. Tartar above the gum line can often easily be seen and removed, but plaque and tartar below the gum line is damaging and sets the stage for infection and damage to the jawbone and tissues connecting the tooth to the jaw bone. Periodontal disease is graded on a scale of 0 (normal) to 4 (severe).

Why does dentistry require anaesthesia?

Your dentist uses techniques to minimise pain and discomfort and can ask you how you are feeling, so you accept the procedures and do your best to keep still. Your pet does not understand the benefit of dental procedures and reacts by moving, trying to escape or even biting.

Anaesthesia makes it possible to perform dental procedures with less stress and pain for your pet. In addition, it allows for better cleaning because your pet is not moving around and risking injury from the dental equipment. If x-rays are needed, your pet needs to be very still in order obtain good images and this is unlikely without heavy sedation or anaesthesia.

Although anaesthesia would always have risks, it is much safer now than ever before and continues to improve so that today risks are very low and are far outweighed by the benefits. Most pets can go home the same day of the procedure, although they might seem a little groggy for the rest of the day.

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