What to Expect If Your Pet Needs Dental Care

Root canals, dental x-rays, orthodontics, crowns, caps, implants, and periodontal surgery for pets?  You must be kidding!  Not at all.  Dental procedures are performed daily in veterinary practices.  How does a loving pet owner know if dental care is needed, and where can a pet owner go for advanced dental care?

Examination is the key to diagnosis and helps determine the type of treatment needed.  You need to know what to look for.  A pet owner can help by examining their pet’s teeth and oral cavity at least monthly.  First, smell your dog or cat’s breath.  If you sense a disagreeable odor, gum disease may be present.  Periodontal disease is the most common ailment of small animals.  Gum problems begin when bacteria accumulates at the gumline around the tooth.  Unless brushed away daily, these bacteria can destroy tooth supporting bone, cause bleeding, and if untreated, cause tooth loss.  Usually the first sign is bad breath.  Other signs you may notice are red swollen gums, tartar, (a yellow or brown accumulation on the tooth surface), or loose teeth.

Watch your pet for signs of mouth pain.  Have you noticed any changes in chewing or eating habits?  A pet with good oral health should have no signs of pain or changes in eating or chewing habits, and minimal or no mouth odor.  However, if your pet is experiencing frequent pain or refusing to eat, has changed chewing habits, or has moderate to severe mouth odor, than an oral problem is probably the cause.

When examining your pet’s mouth, look for chips or fractures on the tooth’s surface.  Contrary to their popularity, chewing on cow hooves, rocks, bones or other hard materials may break teeth.  Many times small pieces of enamel chip off, which usually causes no harm.  Deeper chips may cause sensitivity in your pet if they are not treated.  If the fracture is deep you may notice a red, brown, or black spot in the middle of the tooth’s surface.  The spot is the pulp or root canal, which may be open inside the mouth, eventually leading to a tooth abscess.

When your home exam reveals dental problems or if you are still uncertain, a trip to the veterinarian is in order.  The veterinary oral examination will begin with a complete visual examination of the face, mouth and each tooth.  Frequently pet’s mouths have several different problems that need care.  The veterinarian will usually use a record chart similar to the one used by human dentists to identify and document such dental problems.

A more detailed exam then follows.  Unfortunately cats and dogs cannot point to dental abnormalities with their paws so in order to determine their proper treatment plan, other tests are usually necessary.  Sedation and anesthesia are essential for an adequate evaluation.  Anesthesia allows the veterinarian or assistant to thoroughly examine each tooth individually.

Modern veterinary medicine offers a wide array of safe and effective anesthetics and monitoring equipment that allay previous concerns of anesthesia.

Expect your veterinarian to dental assistant to use a periodontal probe to measure gum pocket depths around each tooth.  One or two millimeters of probe depth normally exists around each tooth.  When dogs or cats are affected by periodontal disease, the depths may increase to 10 millimeters or greater.  If the probe depth is greater than 8 millimeters, there may be  periodontal disease that requires additional care to save the tooth.  Unfortunately by the time some pets come in fro dental care, it is too late to save all the teeth.  Preventative care and periodic checkups should help hinder the loss of additional teeth.

Your veterinarian may also take x-rays of abnormal dental conditions.  X-rays show the inside of the tooth and the root that lies below the gumline.  Some veterinarians use human dental x-ray machines while others modify standard veterinary x-ray equipment.  Many decisions are based on x-ray findings.  Usually the veterinarian will visually examine the mouth, note any problems, take x-rays under anesthesia, and then tell you what needs to be done.  X-rays can also be used to show the pet owner how home dental care should be improved in order to save teeth.

If your dog or cat needs advanced dental care, where can it be found?  Many veterinarians have taken post-graduate dental training in order to better serve their patients.  Some veterinarians have passed advanced written and practical examinations given by the American Veterinary Medical Association, which certifies them as dental specialists.  Veterinary dental specialists can consult with your veterinarian or see your dog or cat directly without a veterinary referral.

Dogs and cats do not have to suffer the pain and discomfort of untreated broken or loose teeth or infected gums.  With the help of thorough examinations, x-rays, dental care, and daily brushing, your pet can keep its teeth in its mouth where they should be.

Written by Jan Bellows, a board-certified veterinary dentist.

Before a Periodontal Cleaning

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After Periodontal Cleaning