Why is Dental Cleaning Important For My Pet?

February is National Pet Dental Care Month which makes now a great time to review the basics of animal dental health and how you can keep your pet’s teeth and mouth healthy (and breath fresh)!   Consider the difference in your own oral care versus your pets’.  Their teeth, gums, and skull structure are very similar in composition to our own but are treated so very differently.  The good news is, the diets we feed our pets tend to be more abrasive than our own and can help keep plaque and tartar down, but this is not a substitute for proper oral care and preventive measures.

Dental Disease in Pets

There are many kinds of dental issues that owners may face when it comes to their pets, including broken teeth, dead or infected teeth, abscesses, bad breath, or even retained baby teeth that failed to fall out when the adult teeth grew in.  The most recognizable dental disease in pets is the visible plaque and calculus that builds up on the surface of the teeth.  Plaque is the sticky film that can be brushed off of the teeth, and calculus (also known as tartar) is the darker, hardened deposit that forms from plaque and can only be removed with scaling by your veterinarian.

The next stage of the dental disease is called periodontal disease. Unfortunately, this problem cannot be seen with the naked eye.  This disease exists under the gumline, and is damaging to tooth roots, gum tissue, and can destroy the bone surrounding the teeth.  Periodontal disease can be very difficult to manage because often it goes unnoticed until the owner starts to see signs such as bad breath or lose teeth when there is already significant damage to the structures surrounding the teeth. In some cases, infections can cause severe swelling in the face, or even rupture through the face or jaw causing an open wound.  Even dogs and cats with no visible plaque or tartar can have severe periodontal disease that could remain undetected until a
serious infection occurs or a full dental cleaning is performed.

Dental Cleanings for Pets

Full dental cleanings for animals can only be safely and painlessly done under general anesthesia, but first, there are a few steps that must be taken to ensure your pet’s safety. A proper physical and oral exam should be performed by your veterinarian.  This can give your doctor an idea of how severe your pet’s dental problems may be and can give us the chance to start antibiotics or pain medication before the procedure.  Next, a complete blood count and blood chemistry panel should be performed to ensure that your pet is healthy enough for general anesthesia.

During the procedure, your pet is intubated with an endotracheal tube and is maintained on gas anesthesia, similar to any surgical procedure.  Many veterinarians perform dental radiographs, or x-rays, to evaluate tooth roots and the pulp cavities within the teeth.  During the procedure, the teeth are scaled and all the plaque and calculus are removed from all surfaces of the teeth.  Additionally, the teeth are cleaned below the gumline, where bacteria can hide and periodontal disease begins.  The teeth are then polished to prevent roughened surfaces where plaque can cling to the teeth.  Some veterinarians will also apply a sealant to your pet’s teeth at the end of the procedure to help ward off impending
plaque and calculus.  Any teeth that need to be extracted can be done so during the cleaning, and veterinarians can use lidocaine blocks and pain medication (just as a human dentist would) to ease the recovery process.  After a dental with extractions, your pet should be fed a diet of soft food only for 1-2 weeks to ensure proper healing of the extraction site.

Some of you may have heard of non-anesthetic dental cleanings, or cleanings performed while your pet is awake.  This is not an appropriate substitute for full dental cleanings for a number of reasons.  First and most importantly, this type of dental procedure does nothing to address or prevent periodontal disease because it is impossible to clean below the gumline in an awake animal.  Scaling can be done on the exposed surface of the teeth, but the animal must be restrained and your veterinarian or veterinary technician must be able to safely handle your pet’s open mouth for an extended period of time.  Sedation without an endotracheal tube is not a safe option for dental cleanings due to the amount of water used in the mouth and the possibility of the animal being unable to swallow or avoid getting water into its trachea, or windpipe, and into the lungs, which can cause deadly pneumonia.

Dental Care at Home

There are two owner-based components to help maintain proper oral health in pets at home. However, there is really only one way to help keep your pet’s teeth healthy between dental cleanings.  The gold standard is daily brushing, but many pets are not tolerant of this and it can be a frustrating task for owners.  There are many types of brushes and flavored paste products to help ease the process, and some pets may tolerate a certain kind of brush or paste over another.  There are also alternative products that can help but are not as effective as daily brushing.  These products include dental chews or treats, rinses, water additives, and dental wipes.

The second component is regular dental checkups with your veterinarian at The Shot Spot paired with full dental cleanings when appropriate.  Depending on the breed, dental cleanings are usually necessary every 1-2 years after the age of 4. There are several ways to determine if your pet may require a cleaning. At our full-service Animal hospital in McKinney, an appointment can be scheduled  7 days a week! Our mobile units visit many different communities, Thursday through Sunday, where your pet can be seen for updated vaccines, exams, and so much more! Many insurance programs for pets include a dental component to help keep teeth healthy.  At the Shot Spot, we offer dental procedures at a discounted rate($50 off Dentals) for the month of February. During this time, appointments fill up quickly, so call us today or visit http://www.theshotspot.org and use our online booking link to schedule a dental checkup!

For more information on Veterinary Dental Care check out the
“For Pet Owners” page on the American Veterinary Dental College’s website: http://avdc.org/AFD/category/for-pet-owners/

Written By:  Kaitlin Agel, D.V.M, M.P.H