Dental Disease and It's Prevention

Patapsco Valley View

Volume 12

February 2013

Teeth: The 'Root' of Some


Do you cringe when Chance gives you a doggy kiss? Does the putrid aroma of Klinger’s breath cause you to gag? That’s not ’puppy breath’. Bad breath is the first sign that your buddy has a problem. kitt_s_lick.jpg


Dogs and cats will never learn to brush, floss, or gargle on their own and because of that it often happens that our pets begin to suffer from gingivitis and tooth decay. Every day our pet’s teeth are being surrounded by the same bacteria that causes plaque build up and tooth decay on our teeth. We brush daily and still wake up with “morning breath”. Imagine if we didn’t practice dental care at all. We’d have more than ’doggy breath’ too.

Occasionally you may not realize that there is something wrong with your pet’s teeth until their appetite declines, they drool, or hold their head ‘funny’ when chewing, all of which are signs that your pet should see the vet.

Food and plaque accumulates daily between and around the teeth and traps bacteria and acid at the gum level. Left untreated, this decay will weaken the gums which hold the teeth in place. Eventually bacteria will work its way into your pet’s bloodstream and it can cause infections in the kidney, liver and even the heart.

With this in mind the American Veterinary Association has designated February as Veterinary Dental Month. This doesn’t mean that we expect you to rush into your vet’s office and demand a dental cleaning for your pet immediately. It means that we want you to know the facts about your pet’s dental health.

Although small dogs, cats and short-faced animals have smaller teeth, they are situated closer together so they trap more debris around them which causes gingivitis and decay earlier in they lives. While your German Shepherd may need an ultrasonic dental cleaning at the age of six to eight, your Jack Russell might be needing one at two to four.

All dogs and cats are individuals, so determining when a cleaning is necessary is something you want to discuss with your veterinarian when you bring your pet in for a yearly examination.

After you have determined that your pet needs a ‘dental’, we will set up an appropriate time for you to bring your pet into the hospital for the procedure. Animals won’t ‘open up and say AHHH!’, so we need to use anesthesia to allow us safe access to your pet’s mouth to perform a thorough cleaning and possible extractions.

For animals over the age of seven we require pre anesthetic blood tests to make sure that the kidneys and liver are able to flush the anesthesia safely out of your pet’s system. However we highly recommend blood work on pets of all ages as the more information we have about your pet’s health the safer it is to do any sort of procedure. We can do the pre- surgical exam and blood tests the morning of the procedure. If the lab work is normal we will inject a mild sedative and pain killer which serves two important functions. First, it will relieve your pet’s fear and helps them relax and be ‘happy’. Second, it will reduce the amount of general anesthetic needed to keep them asleep. Even though we use the same anesthetic gas as human hospitals, it’s always best to use as little as possible.

Once your pet is anesthetized we use an ultrasonic ’scraper’ to remove all plaque and tarter from the teeth and then polish the teeth thoroughly. The doctor checks for gingivitis and any broken or rotten teeth. Any decayed teeth are removed if necessary, and then your pet is prescribed antibiotic and pain medicine.

As a preventive both pre and post cleaning, you can help keep your pet’s teeth healthy by using veterinary toothpaste (specially formulated so that your pet can swallow it without harm). Using a moist piece of gauze or a soft tooth brush just rub the outside of the teeth and gums on both the upper and lower jaws with the pet toothpaste.

There are some dental treats and foods that will help reduce plaque, but nothing beats daily brushing and a complete veterinary dental cleaning. Keeping your pet’s mouth healthy, helps your pet live a longer, happier life, and isn’t that what we all want?