Written by: Dr. Michelle Roth
February is Dental Awareness Month. We challenge you to flip the lip and look at your pet’s teeth. If you are concerned with what you see, please contact us! During the month of February we will be offering special pricing for dental cleanings.
Periodontal disease, also known as dental disease, is one of the most common diseases we diagnose in our patients. Gingivitis, tooth root exposure, gingival recession, and tooth mobility are all signs of dental disease.
Dental disease can range from minor to major and is scaled from 1-4.
Stage 1: Mild reddening and thickening of the gums (Gingivitis)
Stage 2: Generalized gingivitis with loosening of at least one tooth
Stage 3: Severe gingivitis with tooth root exposure and mobility of several teeth
Stage 4: Severe gingivitis with gingival recession, tooth root exposure and severe mobility present in teeth with more than one root (molars and premolars)
Plaque is the major culprit of dental disease and causes the most issues, but is not visible to the naked eye. Plaque is a layer of film on the teeth that houses a large population of bacteria. It can be present on the tooth surface that we see, but also on the teeth under the gums. When the plaque layer under the gums becomes too great dental disease will increase from stage 1 to stage 2 and beyond. The plaque layer also traps minerals that combine to form calculus or tartar. Although unsightly, tartar is not a major cause of dental disease but it can hide any issues underneath.
Not only does dental disease give your pet bad breath, but if left untreated, it can also have negative effects elsewhere in the body. Since bacteria can enter the bloodstream from the mouth and circulate around the body several other body systems can be affected. Heart disease is one example where bacteria lodges in the heart and can cause thickening of the heart valves leading to heart murmurs.
Daily brushing of the teeth is the ideal way to disrupt the plaque layer and prevent formation of dental tartar. Using either a finger brush or toothbrush apply a veterinary approved toothpaste to the outside of all teeth concentrating on the upper molars and premolars (back teeth).
Daily chews and hard kibbles are great options because the mechanical action of chewing will break down the plaque layer and remove some tartar as well. Many products contain enzymes to help break up the plaque layer even more. The Veterinary Oral Health Council has a great list of options available at: http://www.vohc.org/VOHCAcceptedProductsTable_Dogs.pdf
Dental Cleaning Procedure
Most patients will require a dental cleaning to remove the tartar and plaque layers at least once in their lifetime. Many small and toy breeds will require this procedure several times throughout their lives to maintain a healthy mouth.
At WCVS we require pre-anesthetic bloodwork for all patients over 7 years of age and greatly encourage bloodwork for all patients needing a dental procedure. This allows us to make a more educated and safer choice in medications for your pet. Typical pre-anesthetic blood work will cost around $55, and should be drawn prior to the day of the procedure. At that time we will send home antibiotics for your pet. We start pets on
antibiotics 3 days before their dental procedure to reduce the amount of circulating bacteria.
On the day of the procedure your pet will have a catheter placed in their leg vein in order to administer medications and fluids. The teeth will be cleaned with an ultrasonic scaler by a Veterinary Technician or the Veterinarian. This process removes the tartar build up and also disrupts the plaque layer above and below the gum line. If we find any loose, broken, or overexposed roots on the teeth we will remove them to prevent any further damage to the healthy teeth. The teeth will then be polished to remove any remaining plaque layer and to smooth the surface of the teeth. The mouth will be rinsed and a sealant may be applied if you request it. Your pet will recover from anesthesia and be sent home the same day.