Vet Blog

Dental Talk

October 05, 2019

Did You Know...? Adult dogs have 42 teeth and cats have 30 teeth.

Though preventative dentistry is important for all dogs, smaller dogs tend to develop dental problems at an earlier age. Bad breath is often the first sign of dental disease an owner notices. Other clinical signs of dental disease include:

  • Inflamed gums (gingivitis)
  • Dental tartar
  • Retained deciduous (baby) teeth
  • Draining tract or root exposure
  • Loose teeth
  • Growth in mouth

Periodontal disease is by far the number one most diagnosed problem in small animal patients today. By the age of two, 70% of cats and 80% of dogs have some degree of periodontal disease.

A Close Look At Periodontal Disease

If dental problems such as bad breath, tartar, and gingivitis are left untreated, bone loss around the tooth - or periodontitis - may occur. As teeth become loose and the infection spreads, the teeth become painful. Remember, typically if it is red, it is painful.

Periodontal disease causes not only tooth loss and bad breath but many local and systemic problems as well. Untreated periodontal disease is the single greatest cause of health problems in small animals, and preventing and treating it can significantly add to the quality of your pet's life. As part of your pet's healthcare team, it is our responsibility to help prevent, recognize and treat dental disease in your pet.

Research in humans shows that untreated periodontal disease is a key factor in the development of heart, liver, and kidney problems and is a source of chronic low-grade infection. In fact, in women, periodontal disease is a contributing factor to osteoporosis, birth defects, bone loss, and increased arthritis pain.

In many cases, you may not be able to recognize signs of dental pain in your pet. Our pets' instincts tell them to hide pain or illness. In nature, sick animals are rejected from the pack and become victims of predators. Our pets' instincts also tell them they must eat to survive, no matter how painful their teeth may have become.

Regular dental exams can catch dental problems before they become serious issues and may prevent periodontal disease in your pet. Speak to a veterinarian today to schedule a dental exam for your best friend.

How Periodontal Disease Develops

Bacteria-filled plaque forms on your pet's teeth within 30 minutes of eating. Plaque persists if not brushed off daily. This bacteria causes bad breath, infection, and potentially more serious health problems.

Without at-home and professional dental care, the plaque hardens into tartar within 24 hours.

While plaque can be removed by brushing, dental tartar cannot. Tartar should be professionally removed from the tooth surface before it begins to affect the gum line. We call this stage Grade 1. There are a total of four grades of periodontal disease. At Grade 2, we begin to see irreversible damage done to the gum attachment of the tooth and underlying bone. Grade 4 is the worst stage and is associated with inflammation, swelling, pustular discharge, advanced bone loss, and tooth instability.

While cleaning the tartar from the surface of the tooth can help with the appearance of the tooth, plaque will begin building again within 24 hours of the procedure.

Your Pet's Cleaning

Once tartar develops, it can only be removed by having your pet's teeth professionally cleaned. This is similar to what you receive at your dentist's office. However, unlike your own dental cleaning, your pet will be anesthetized for a complete oral exam and professional cleaning. This is the only way we can truly evaluate your pet's mouth. An awake animal will not tolerate the sounds and sensations of the ultrasonic cleaner.

While there is always a slight risk with any anesthesia, today's anesthetics are safer than ever, even for older pets. The risk of complications of an infected mouth can far outweigh the risk of general anesthesia.

Before your pet's dental exam, we perform a full physical exam and pre-surgical lab work to help rule out any pre-existing internal problems that may not be evident during a physical exam. Because blood flow to most internal organs decreases during general anesthesia, we need to determine that the kidneys and liver are functioning normally.

Both cats and dogs should be current on their heartworm test and heartworm preventative prior to anesthesia.

We place the pet on intravenous fluids during the procedure to increase blood pressure and maintain blood flow to the vital organs.

The single most important goal when scheduling a pet for a dental cleaning is evaluating the mouth while the pet is under anesthesia. Once the teeth have been probed and radiographs taken, a more accurate assessment can be made of what is needed for your pet to have a healthier mouth.

Once a patient is anesthetized, we can thoroughly evaluate their teeth. We use a periodontal probe to locate any periodontal pockets and tartar under the gum line. Each tooth is gently probed to look for detachment of the gum and possible problems with the root of each tooth.

Once the mouth has been evaluated, tartar is removed from the crowns of the teeth and just under the gum line with special instruments. Hidden tartar and the bacteria on the tartar will continue to destroy the tissues holding the tooth in place if it is not found and removed.

If pockets are found or problems are noted with the crowns (i.e., very loose or fractured teeth), we will recommend taking dental x- rays to evaluate the roots of the affected teeth. It is imperative that we are able to reach someone during the procedure in order to give an accurate estimate of additional work (i.e. radiographs, extractions, etc.) that may be needed and obtain permission from the owner to proceed.

Once the dental radiographs have been evaluated, additional work may be recommended at a follow-up visit. In many cases, procedures such as root canal therapy and crown placement can be performed to save the affected tooth. However, these procedures must be performed before there is irreversible damage done to the surrounding bone structure of the tooth. Sometimes it is better to extract the diseased tooth if there is severe bone disease in order to stop the bone loss and save the neighboring teeth. In some cases, extensive dental work can be staged, especially if the owner is not prepared for the additional costs.

The last step of your pet's dental cleaning is polishing. The teeth are polished to make the enamel surface smooth so that the plaque cannot establish a strong grasp on the tooth. Without preventative care, such as home brushing, plaque, tartar, and bad breath will return.

What You Can Do

There are several preventative products available for home use by pet owners. Which products you chose typically will depend on your pet's temperament and your particular lifestyle.

Brushing your pet's teeth daily with a toothpaste approved for pets is still the best way to remove the plaque. We recommend the C.E.T. enzymatic toothpaste, which is sold at Main Street Veterinary Hospital.

For the few pets that will not tolerate brushing, there are other products that are less labor-intensive and can help reduce plaque and tartar build-up.

C.E.T. chews are a rawhide product that contains an enzymatic cleaner. Giving your pet a C.E.T. chew three to four times a week can help reduce plaque build-up but will not remove tartar.

Science Diet Oral Care and Science Diet T/D are designed to help scrape off the plaque as the pet chews. While these diets are extremely effective in removing plaque, they must be fed daily in order to help prevent tartar buildup. If you cannot routinely brush your pet's teeth, you should consider feeding your pet one of these Science Diet products.