February is National Pet Dental Month. Dental health is an important part of your pet’s overall health. Dental problems cause, or be caused by, other health problems. Your pet’s teeth and gums need be checked at least once a year by your veterinarian. This exam is needed to check for early signs of a problem and to keep your pet’s mouth healthy.
What is veterinary dentistry, and who should perform it?
Veterinary dentistry includes the cleaning, adjustment, filing, extraction, or repair of your pets’ teeth. Therefore procedures should be performed by a veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary dentist. Subject to state regulation, veterinary technicians are allowed to perform certain dental procedures under the care of a veterinarian.F
First, the process begins with an oral exam of your pet’s mouth by a veterinarian. Radiographs (x-rays) evaluate the health of the jaw and the tooth roots below the gum line. Most dental disease occurs below the gum line, where you can’t see it, a thorough dental cleaning and evaluation are performed under anesthesia. Dental cleaning includes scaling (to remove dental plaque and tartar) and polishing, similar to the process used on your own teeth during your regular dental cleanings.
Oral health in dogs and cats
As a result, pet’s teeth should be checked at least once a year by your veterinarian for early signs of a problem and to keep your pet’s mouth healthy. Have your pet’s teeth checked sooner if you observe any of the following problems:
- bad breath
- broken or loose teeth
- extra teeth or retained baby teeth
- teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar
- abnormal chewing, drooling, or dropping food from the mouth
- reduced appetite or refusal to eat
- pain in or around the mouth
- bleeding from the mouth
- swelling in the areas surrounding the mouth
Especially pets might become irritable when they have dental problems, and any changes in your pet’s behavior should prompt a visit to your veterinarian. Always be careful when evaluating your pet’s mouth, because a painful animal may bite.
Causes of pet dental problems
Although cavities are less common in pets than in people, they can have many of the same dental problems that people can develop:
- broken teeth and roots
- periodontal disease
- abscesses or infected teeth
- cysts or tumors in the mouth
- malocclusion, or misalignment of the teeth and bite
- broken (fractured) jaw
- palate defects (such as cleft palate)
Additionally, periodontal disease is the most common dental condition in dogs and cats. By the time your pet is 3 years old, he or she will very likely have some early evidence of periodontal disease. However, it will worsen as your pet grows older if preventive measures aren’t taken. Early detection and treatment are critical, because advanced periodontal disease causes severe problems and pain for your pet. Periodontal disease doesn’t just affect your pet’s mouth. Other health problems found in association with periodontal disease include kidney, liver, and heart muscle changes.
It starts with plaque that hardens into tartar. Tartar above the gum line can often easily be seen and removed. Plaque and tartar below the gum line is damaging and sets the stage for infection and damage to the jawbone and the tissues that connect the tooth to the jaw bone. Periodontal disease is graded on a scale of 0 (normal) to 4 (severe).
The treatment of periodontal disease involves a thorough dental cleaning. Furthermore, x-rays may be needed to determine the severity of the disease. Your veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary dentist will make recommendations based on your pet’s overall health and the health of your pet’s teeth, and provide you with options to consider.