February is Pet Dental Health Month

Proper dental care can detect dental disease that not only affects the mouth, but can also lead to more serious health problems such as heart, lung and kidney disease. Good dental hygiene is just as important for pets as it is for humans. Yet, it is one of the most overlooked areas in pet health.

Periodontal disease

Periodontal disease is an infection of the tissue surrounding the teeth that takes hold in progressive stages.

How it starts and progresses

Periodontal disease starts out as a bacterial film called plaque. The bacteria attaches to the teeth. When the bacteria die they can be calcified by calcium in the saliva. This forms a hard, rough substance called tartar or calculus, which allows more plaque to accumulate. Initially, plaque is soft and brushing or chewing hard food and toys can dislodge it. If left to spread, plaque can lead to gingivitis, and inflammation of the gums, causing them to become red and swollen and to bleed easily. As plaque and calculus develop below the gum line, professional cleaning will be needed to help manage it. If the plaque and tartar buildup continues unchecked, infection can form around the root of the tooth.

In the final stages of periodontal disease, the tissues surrounding the tooth are destroyed, the bony socket holding the tooth in erodes, and the tooth becomes loose. This is a very painful process for your pet, but these problems can be averted before they start with proper dental care.

American Animal Hospital Association Guidelines

Oral examinations: AAHA recommends that veterinarians evaluate puppies and kittens for problems related to deciduous (baby) teeth, missing teeth, extra teeth, swelling, and oral development. As pets age, your veterinarian will examine your pet for developmental anomalies, accumulation of plaque and tartar, periodontal disease, and oral tumors. The veterinarian can perform a basic oral examination while pets are awake. However, short-lasting anesthetic is required for a more complete examination.

Other guideline recommendations
  • Pre-anesthetic exam–Your veterinarian should examine your pet to ensure it is healthy enough to go under general anesthesia. This examination may include:
    • Blood tests
    • Urine tests
    • Electrocardiography
    • X-rays
  • Anesthesia monitoring–When your pet is under anesthesia, its vital signs (such as body temperature, heart rate, and respiration) should be monitored and recorded. This helps ensure your pet’s safety while under anesthesia.
  • Dental radiographs–X-rays of your pet’s teeth are needed periodically to evaluate your pet’s oral health. X-rays also help veterinarians detect abnormalities that cannot be seen through physical examination alone. They can also confirm the need for tooth extraction when teeth are loose or badly infected.
  • Scaling and polishing–Using instruments much like human dentists, veterinarians remove plaque and calculus from your pet’s teeth. Polishing with a special paste smooths out scratches to the tooth enamel.
  • Fluoride/sealants–By applying an anti-plaque substance, such as a fluoride treatment and/or a barrier sealant, the veterinarian helps strengthen and desensitize teeth and discourage the development of future plaque.
Home dental care

Pet owners also play an important role in their animals’ oral health. Regular teeth brushing at home coupled with regular dental check-ups can help your pet live a longer, healthier life.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s dental or overall oral health care, please contact us at 513.777.5131.