Pet Dental Month: The Importance of Proper Dentistry

The veterinary health community wants all pet owners to celebrate Pet Dental Health Month this February, and every month here on out, by brushing your pet’s teeth daily, getting teeth examined at regular physical exams, and following your veterinarian’s recommendations for dental procedures and cleanings. Your pet’s bad breath and reluctance to chew could be a bigger problem than you think. If your pet has gum disease, it will damage the liver and kidneys and can even cause infection in the blood stream.

A pet is almost always anesthetized to perform a proper dental which might frighten some owners. So why do veterinarians insist on anesthetizing the pet for this procedure when there are lay people who will do it without and charge much less? Let me answer this question by explaining what happens with each approach.

In a dental without anesthesia, calculus above the gum line is removed from the exposed tooth. The exposed top of the tooth is called the crown. After the calculus is gone, the teeth are brushed and/or rinsed and the procedure is finished.

A dental with anesthesia starts with diagnostic tests. The crown and neck of each tooth are examined and the root is probed to identify periodontal pockets that harbor infection. Over time, the infection in these pockets destroys the periodontal ligament that holds the tooth in the jaw leading to tooth loss. Next, dental x-rays are obtained to identify problems below the gum line. With the diagnostics complete, a gameplan is created to assess treating your pet’s teeth. The cleaning begins with removing calculus from the crowns, cleaning and treating the periodontal pockets to promote reattachment of the gingiva and treatment of any problems identified in the roots of the teeth. Next, the crowns are polished to remove rough surfaces that trap bacteria and the entire mouth is rinsed with an antiseptic. Lastly, a fluoride foam is rubbed along your pet’s teeth to strengthen the enamel.

Veterinarians use anesthesia in order to diagnose, treat and clean the entire mouth, not just the crowns of the teeth. If only the crowns are scraped, tooth problems will develop causing the pet much pain and suffering. I have seen several pets who received dental without anesthesia whose crowns looked pearly white but they had horrible periodontal disease that’s impossible to treat without anesthesia. Their gums were bright red, and their teeth were loose. When I pressed on the gum, pus oozed out. I felt so bad telling the owners that the money they spent on years of dentals without anesthesia was a waste. Now most of the teeth were beyond repair and needed extraction to make the pet comfortable.

I know many pet owners are scared to have their pets under anesthesia, but if the protocol is high quality then the risk is extremely low. At Town and Country Veterinary Clinic, we perform pre-surgery blood work, use IV fluids during the operation, and we monitor the pet’s blood pressure and other vitals constantly.

Just as with people, pet dental care is vital to overall health. Please take advantage of Pet Dental Month and have your pets examined for oral health.

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