Did you know that dental care is one of the most commonly overlooked aspects of pet care? A pet’s oral health is more important to their overall health than owners may realize.
Dental care is an essential part of routine pet care, but there are a lot of questions and misconceptions about oral health in dogs and cats. To clear the air, we’ve answered some of the most common questions we receive regarding dental care for pets:
Why does my pet need their teeth cleaned?
When it comes to oral health, bad breath is just the tip of the iceberg. Oral health is just one piece of the puzzle that makes up your pet’s overall health.
Imagine if you didn’t brush your teeth for weeks, months, or even years? Over time, the excess plaque and tartar would cause the gums to recede, the teeth to decay, and rotten teeth in your mouth can make you really sick. Untreated dental disease can lead to painful teeth, abscesses, facial swelling, and weight loss.
Additionally, all of that bacteria and disease can wreak havoc on your pet’s internal organs. Periodontal disease adds stress on the organs, allowing bacteria to enter the bloodstream affecting liver, kidneys, heart, and lungs, which can lead to organ failure.
What is included in a professional dental cleaning?
Once your pet is fully anesthetized, your veterinarian and surgical technician will do the following:
A thorough oral exam. Your veterinarian is now able to examine your pet's mouth thoroughly to assess gum condition, check for oral masses, and determine if any teeth need extraction.
Dental Radiographs. Specialized radiographs of the teeth are taken to evaluate the portion of the tooth that is not visible through an oral exam. The root, which is hidden below the gum line, is about 2/3 of the tooth's total length making dental radiographs an important tool in evaluating the oral health in your pet.
Scaling the teeth. Using an ultrasonic scaler, all of the yellow-brown build up on the teeth and under the gums is scaled away to reveal the tooth underneath.
Extractions. If any extractions are required, your veterinarian will remove the tooth and any fragments. Broken, diseased, or problematic teeth that may cause discomfort or disease in the future are removed.
Tooth Polishing. The teeth are polished after the cleaning to fill in any microscopic etches on the teeth to reduce plaque and tartar from adhering to the teeth.
Rinse and fluoride. The teeth are rinsed after polishing and a fluoride treatment is applied before waking your pet.
At what age should my pet have their first dental cleaning?
Dental cleanings are warranted by the amount of tartar build up on the teeth, not by age. Pets who are big chewers and frequently chew on toys, eat hard food, enjoy dental treats, or have their teeth brushed regularly can successfully keep tartar at bay for several years! However, some pets can build up enough tartar to warrant a cleaning before they are even a year old. Here are some signs to watch for that may indicate your pet is due for a cleaning:
Yellow or brown build up on the teeth
Foul odor coming from mouth, saliva
Red, inflamed gums
Pain or swelling around the mouth or face
Rubbing or pawing at face
Change in eating habits/loss of appetite
Chewing on one side of the mouth
Difficulty opening or closing mouth
Avoiding hard food and toys
Broken or missing teeth
Becoming aggressive or withdrawn
If you have noticed any of the following symptoms in your pet, give us a call to schedule a complimentary dental exam, to determine when your pet might be due for their next cleaning.
For your safety, if your pet seems painful around their mouth or face, do not attempt to open or look in their mouth. Do not give any over-the-counter medications for pain without the approval of your veterinarian.
I know my pet needs a dental cleaning, but I’m nervous about putting them under anesthesia because of their age. Is it safe?
Before anesthesia is used on any patient, no matter their age, our veterinarians conduct a thorough full-body exam from nose to tail. Your veterinarian will check all body systems, including checking vital signs, listening to the heart and lungs, and checking blood work to ensure there are no contraindications for anesthesia. If your vet does not think it is safe, they will not proceed with the procedure and you will be contacted to discuss their exam findings. Once your vet has determined it is safe to proceed, our staff will take every precaution to make sure your pet’s procedure goes smoothly.
While there is always some inherent risk in any procedure involving anesthesia, our veterinarians and staff prioritize your pet’s safety. To make the procedure as safe as possible, our anesthesia protocol includes placing an IV catheter for easy access for fluids or medications, an endotracheal tube to secure your pet’s airway, an array of machines that monitor vitals and administer oxygen, and an experienced surgical technician working alongside your veterinarian to monitor your pet from the time they are induced for their procedure to the time they wake up.
Is anesthesia required for dental cleanings?
Yes. For the safety and comfort of your pet, anesthesia is required for dental cleanings and is not optional. Your pet being fully sedated allows your veterinarian and the surgical technician to examine the mouth freely, scale the teeth and remove tartar, probe under the gum line to check tooth health, and extract teeth as needed. Even the best-behaved of pets would not be cooperative during this kind of procedure if they were awake!
Why are dental cleanings so expensive?
The cost of a dental cleaning is dependent on what kind of shape the teeth are in when the vet performs the cleaning. Veterinarians determine a pet’s stage of dental disease on a scale of 1 to 4. Stage 1 dental disease is the ideal time to have a dental cleaning performed on your pet, as tartar build up is minimal, the gums are largely unaffected, and extractions are rarely needed.
Alternatively, a Stage 4 requires a lot more work, as severe tartar build up has impacted the teeth and gums, and extractions are likely needed. Stage 4 dentals not only take longer to perform (requiring more anesthesia), but incur more costs due to disease progression. Additionally, oral antibiotics and pain medications may be prescribed if teeth have been extracted, which are also additional costs. To keep costs down, we recommend routine dental cleanings to keep teeth at a Stage 1 or lower.
For a detailed estimate, call to schedule a complimentary dental exam with your veterinarian.
What can I do at home to keep my pet’s teeth healthy?
Brushing your pet’s teeth at home 3 to 4 times a week has been proven to have a huge impact on reducing plaque and tartar from building up! Unfortunately, teeth brushing becomes less effective on teeth that already have significant build-up. In this case, the tartar will need to be addressed by a professional cleaning, and followed up with regular brushing to maintain the teeth afterwards.
Dental chews and treats are a great way to supplement in between brushing, and treats like Ora-vet dental chews can be given daily to promote good oral health. Ora-vet chews freshen breath and maintain oral health by being just abrasive enough to give the teeth a good “brush” while the creamy center coats the teeth and keeps tartar from building up. As with all treats or chews, we recommend supervision.