Caring for your pet's teeth is an important and easily overlooked part of protecting their overall health. Yearly wellness exams are an excellent time to ask your veterinarian about their recommendations for oral care and when/if a cleaning is necessary.
What are the signs that it's time for my pet to visit the dentist?
- Bad breath
- White to Yellow-brown crust of plaque on teeth near gum line
- Red and/or swollen gums
- Pain or bleeding from the mouth
- Decreased appetite and/or difficulty eating
- Loose or missing teeth
What is periodontal disease?
Periodontal disease is a term used to refer to an infection or inflammation of tissues surrounding ("peri-") teeth ("-dontal"). The mouth is home to all kinds of bacteria which multiply over time to produce an invisible film that adheres to teeth. If not removed, normal mineral deposits within saliva attach to the film to leave a soft thickened material called plaque. Plaque consolidates on teeth over time to create tartar which is firmly adhered to teeth and difficult to remove. Its location directly underneath and at the gumline causes irritation to the gums (known as gingivitis). As the associated infection progresses, the bacteria in the tartar can be transported in the blood to cause an infection in local lymph nodes (tonsillitis) or distant organs ? including the heart (endocarditis), liver, and/or kidneys.
Can tartar be prevented?
In some dogs, plaque becomes tartar faster than others, so routine cleaning at home is the most important aspect of preventing infection. There are several toothbrush/toothpaste products available which can be used for daily or weekly brushing. Various dog foods, treats, and chew toys can also be very beneficial in preventing plaque. Just like with people, dentals cleanings are still sometimes necessary; however, preventing the majority of plaque will decrease the frequency they need proper cleanings and decrease the chance of secondary infections and/or loss of teeth.
Can I use human toothpaste?
No! Most human toothpastes contain an artificial sweetener called "Xylitol" (also found in sugar-free gum among other things). While this is safe for humans, it is extremely toxic to dogs. Also, most human toothpastes contain other ingredients that are not meant to be swallowed.
Can tartar be removed at home without visiting the vet?
Some pets are very co-operative and will allow you to remove tartar from their teeth; however, there are three major reasons why this is less than ideal:
1. It is really only possible (with any safety) to remove the exposed tartar on the surface of the tooth. This leaves everything under the gums to still cause problems.
2. It is very difficult to clean the inside surface of the teeth when a dog or cat is awake.
3. Removal of plaque leaves behind very small grooves in the surface of the tooth which allows for more rapid production of tartar and can cause damage to the enamel of the tooth. (Veterinary instruments leave behind grooves as well, but a special polish is used to remove the grooves after the fact.)
What is a "Dental Prophylaxis?"
Dental prophylaxis (i.e. dental cleanings) are performed for the purpose of both cleaning the teeth and performing a thorough evaluation of the oral cavity to evaluate for any ancillary problems which might be present and difficult to detect during a routine exam. The "prophylaxic" portion of a dental is termed to indicate our goal of preventing problems before they occur or correcting them before they get out of hand.
Depending on the age of your pet, we strongly recommend some routine bloodwork to better evaluate your pet's current health status and try to rule out any concurrent disease. Any additional medical conditions must be evaluated and addressed properly to ensure the safest anesthesia possible. Depending on the stage of periodontal disease, we may recommend antibiotics prior to surgery to prevent secondary infection.
The Dental Prophylaxis:
Step 1: An IV catheter is placed in a peripheral leg vein so that medications and intravenous fluids may be administered during the procedure
Step 2: General anesthesia: An injection is administered to provide sedation, followed by a second intravenous injection to induce anesthesia. Anesthesia is then maintained via intubation (placing a tube into the trachea) and administering an inhalant anesthetic.
Step 3: An ultrasonic scaler is used to remove tartar from teeth and teeth roots.
Step 4: All teeth are examined to make sure they are healthy and don't require additional treatment or removal. Loose and diseased teeth may require removal as they are otherwise a continual source of pain and infection.
Step 5: Any dental surgery that is necessary is performed (i.e. removal of any masses in the mouth or excess gum tissue).
Step 6: A rubber tipped disc is used to polish away the small grooves in the enamel of teeth to prevent excess plaque formation down the road.
Step 7: Teeth are rinsed and an antibacterial mouthwash is applied to teeth and gums.
Step 8: Fluoride is applied to all surfaces of teeth to enhance enamel hardness and prevent future cavities.
Step 9: Anesthetic recovery with continuous monitoring.
All owners will receive a detailed chart entailing everything that was done during the procedure and any pets with extracted teeth and/or severe periodontal disease will go home with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.
Note: The average length of time for a thorough dental prophylaxis in dogs is 45-60 minutes and 30-45 minutes in cats
After a dental cleaning, it is important to follow a few protocols to ensure the teeth stay healthy for as long as possible afterwards. Your veterinarian may recommend soft food for a few days after surgery depending on how sore your pet's mouth may be. They may also recommend pain medications and/or antibiotics, especially if any teeth were extracted. After approximately 7-10 days, you may begin or resume brushing your pet's teeth and/or offering other dental chews/toys.