Dental care for dogs: overlooked but vital

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By Dr. James Williams, DVM

Did you know, one of the most important, and often overlooked, parts of your pet’s health is Dental Care and Well-Being? Did you know that Dental problems can be the first indication of other health issues? Or that Poor Dental Health can cause many other, major health issues in our pets?

Just like regular human dental care, it is vital that a pet’s mouth be examined by a veterinarian once a year.  Early intervention is key, before small concerns lead to big issues.

What does the Vet do?

During your annual visit, your veterinarian will look at your pet’s mouth, checking their gums and each tooth for decay, damage or signs of disease.  They will also check the tongue and roof of the mouth for tumors or abnormalities.  Sometimes, x-rays are taken to see below the gum-line, where disease occurs, but cannot be seen.

Many pet owners practice regular, ongoing care at home, such as brushing (the number one treatment shown to reduce the incidence of dental disease in dogs and cats) with a special (not expensive) pet toothbrush and toothpaste.  Special chew treats are specifically indicated to maintain the health of teeth and gums in pets. Water additives and special diets also help maintain good oral health at home.  Many veterinary offices will provide tools and education for good pet oral health as part of your annual wellness exam.

What happens when a pet has Dental Issues?

Veterinary Dentistry includes the cleaning, polishing, filing, extraction and/or repair of teeth as well as other aspects of oral health care by your veterinarian and/or the veterinary technicians who care regularly for your animals.

Any thorough dental cleaning is done under anesthesia.  This involves scaling the teeth to remove dental plaque and tartar and evaluating all teeth for signs of gum disease, fracture and other abnormalities.  Severely damaged teeth will be removed, but less damaged teeth can often be saved with a less-expensive, less-invasive process called dentinal bonding.  Many of these procedures are very similar to those performed on you when you go to the dentist, except for the anesthesia.

Why does veterinary dentistry require anesthesia?

Cats and dogs don’t understand what we are trying to do or the benefit of dental procedures, and react by moving, trying to escape and sometimes biting.  Anesthesia allows these procedures to be carried out thoroughly, with a minimal amount of stress and pain to the pet.  Veterinarians use every tool they have to ensure each pet’s comfort.  Some of these are local anesthetic blocks, as well as pre- and post-op pain medications.

Does everyone like getting their teeth cleaned?

Not always.  But remember, regular at-home care is the number one way to prevent dental disease.  It is also the best way to maintain all the work completed during your pet’s Dental Service.  Your Veterinary Assistant will show you some tips on at-home care and often give you some tools as part of the Dental package.

Many people ask, what are some the signs you might see that may indicate your pet has a dental problem and may need to see your veterinarian?  Below is a list – be careful when examining your pet’s mouth, because painful pets may bite and/or scratch:

-Bad breath

-Broken, loose, or discolored teeth

-Abnormal chewing, drooling or dropping food from the mouth

-Reduced appetite or refusal to eat

-Pain or swelling in or around the mouth

-Bleeding from the mouth

Some pets may become irritable, depressed or agitated when they have dental issues, and many owners are prompted to make a visit to or call the vet when they notice any change in behavior.

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