What is Dental Disease?
Dental disease, also known as Periodontal disease, occurs in both dogs and cats and it is entirely preventable.
It begins when bacteria in the mouth forms plaque that sticks to the surface of the teeth. That plaque, once exposed to the minerals that are in the saliva, hardens and is then referred to as tartar, also known as dental calculus, and it becomes then firmly attached to the teeth. The real problem occurs when the plaque and tartar spread under the gum line. A bacterium in the plaque, then sets in motion the horrible and destructive cycle of damage to the supporting tissues around the tooth which eventually leads to the loss of the tooth.

Indications of Dental Disease a Pet Owners View
Lifting your cat or dogs lips do you see:

  • Dirty or discoloured teeth – typically an ugly brownish or greenish colour.
    • This is likely plaque or tartar and an early sign of dental disease.
  • Gums – is there redness, swelling, and/or bleeding
    • This indicates a serious gum infection and disease.
  • Bad breath – is it foul smelling and does it make you cringe when your dog goes to give you a kiss.
    • This is usually associated with a bacterial infection. You dog or cat should NOT have bad breath, their breath should be neutral in odor.  Bad breath should not be a reason for you to avoid one-on-one time with your pet.

What to do if your pet has Dental Disease?
A complete dental exam is required under anesthetic. This involves the veterinarian and team preforming an evaluation if your pets oral cavity (mouth). Beginning by taking radiographs ( X-Rays) of all the teeth. This ensures that the team has not missing anything. Sometimes you can’t see the full extent of the damage until x-rays are preformed that way your pet gets the best care needed. Next preforming cleaning not only the surface of the teeth, but underneath the gum line where, as we mentioned before, a lot of bacteria and tartar are found. After all the cleaning is done then the teeth are polished. Polishing is not only to make your pet’s teeth shine but more importantly to smooth the rough surfaces created by the cleaning. Then an antibacterial solution is used to flush below the gum line. Finally the whole mouth is then checked again to ensure that nothing was missed and that any unhealthy or rotting teeth have been removed.

What about non-anesthetic dental cleaning?
Firstly, if your pet has dental disease, cleaning your pet’s teeth without an anesthetic is painful for your pet. Your pet may move during the procedure which will cause them even more pain and discomfort and also the instruments used for cleaning are sharp and may cut your pet. It is important to know that it is ILLEGAL for anyone other than a veterinarian or a supervised and trained veterinary technician to preform dental cleaning. Now, the biggest issue with non-anesthetic cleaning is that the teeth are only being cleaned and as discussed previously, this does not address the tartar and plaque that is accumulating underneath the gum line.

How safe is the anesthetic for your pet?
This is a question that we get all the time and it is a good one. We strive every day to make anesthesia as safe as we can for our patients. Physical exam, pre-anesthetic bloodwork, and ECGs are a great place to start. When the veterinarian preforms a physical exam they are ensuring your pet has no health concerns that can be seen by the naked eye. This also means the veterinarian is visualizing your pets oral cavity, among many other areas of your pet, to assess the severity of dental disease if any. Why should you do pre-anesthetic blood work and ECGs for your pet? Both of these testing methods allow the veterinarian to see “within” your pet and a lot of the time if we do not look we do not find. The blood work allows the veterinarian to see how your pet’s organs are functioning, for example is your pet’s kidneys and liver functioning well enough to process the anesthesia. An ECG, which has the fancy name of electrocardiogram, is a tool used to determine your pet’s hearts mechanical functions for example, is their heart preforming properly, in its most important life’s job, to make sure all of the body gets the blood and oxygen it needs to survive a healthy life. The physical exam along with the pre-anesthetic testing allows the veterinarian the best opportunity to assess your pet and advise you appropriately. Lastly we are using modern anesthesia techniques, including using intravenous catheters and IV fluids to improve the safety for your pet.  

Prevention & Maintenance
How do we prevent dental disease? Did you know that 4 out of 5 dogs over the age of 4 years have some sort of periodontal disease? At a young age (puppies and kittens) pets should be taught how to have their teeth brushed. Using a diet that is formulated to reduce plaque is essential as well, such as Royal Canin’s Dental diet. Lastly have regular dental cleanings done and a yearly physical exam on your pet is the key to a healthy mouth. Remember early diagnosis and treatment is the best defense against serious dental disease. Caring for your pets teeth will save you money and grief over the long term.

The darker area that can be seen in the circle, is a good example of an abcess that would otherwise have been missed if not for a dental X-Ray

The picture below shows what the teeth would have looked like externally.

Does Your Pet Have Dental Disease?