Pet Dental Health

 When it comes to companion animal oral health, it seems that “out of sight, out of mind” often prevails.  Ignoring our pet’s dental care can lead to oral pain, poor overall health, costly extractions and horrible stinky breath!

Dogs have 42 teeth and cats have 30 teeth.  Like humans, dogs and cats first sprout deciduous (baby) teeth that fall out and are replaced by permanent teeth between 4-6 months of age.  Even though we see more dental issues in older pets, it is important to get puppies and kittens used to having their mouths opened and their teeth and gums touched.  After your pet is used to having their mouth handled, they will be much more likely to accept routine teeth brushing using yummy pet toothpaste and a pet specific toothbrush.  The more amenable a dog or cat is to an oral exam, the more likely YOU are to brush their teeth and the happier your veterinarian will be when they go to perform a routine oral examination.  It is also important to avoid very hard chews like bones or antlers which can cause teeth to break.

The progression of dental disease starts with the accumulation of tartar and bacteria on the surface of the tooth.  The tartar can form a thick calculus and the bacteria will begin to penetrate the space between the gingiva (gums) and the tooth, causing inflammation and weakening the attachment between the tooth and the bone that holds it in place.  Over time, painful gingivitis can occur, the tooth can become loose and bacteria can cause an abscess or pocket of infection.  Your veterinarian may recommend a dental for a routine cleaning to prevent this from occurring OR to address these problems after they have already occurred.

When a pet has a dental, that involves them undergoing general anesthesia.  Once they are asleep, the veterinarian examines each surface of every tooth for fractures, pockets of infection and mobility.  Full mouth radiographs (x-rays) are also performed.  Using both the examination and the x-rays, your veterinarian will decide if any unhealthy or loose teeth need to be extracted.  An extraction is typically performed by creating a flap in the gums, drilling out the unhealthy tooth and root (cat and dog teeth can have up to 3 roots) and surgically closing the gingival flap overtop.  Any remaining teeth are cleaned using an ultrasonic scaler to remove tartar.  Pets that have teeth extracted will likely go home with soft food and pain medications until healed.  Miraculously, dogs and cats with few to no teeth can live a normal, pain- free life and even resume eating hard food!

February is pet dental health month.  Schedule an examination today to discuss your pet’s oral heath with your veterinarian!

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