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Dental Health: What Pet Owners Should Know

A.D. Coppel, DVM

Good dental hygiene is just as important for our pets as it is for us humans, but it is often overlooked in our pet's health. Periodontal disease starts out as a bacterial film called plaque. Initially, plaque is soft and brushing or chewing hard food and toys can dislodge it. Plaque can then harden into substance called tartar. Without proper dental care, tartar can lead to gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), causing them to become red, swollen and to easily bleed. Tartar can also develop below the gum line and a professional dental cleaning will be needed to address this. If the 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 become destroyed, the bony socket holding the tooth in erodes, and the tooth becomes loose. This is a very painful process for your furry family member. These problems can be averted before they start with proper dental care.

What to expect during the dental cleaning process:

General anesthesia–Professional veterinary cleanings are completed under general anesthesia with intubation. General anesthesia is necessary to adequately examine all surfaces of your pet’s oral cavity including below the gum line and alleviate any discomfort during the procedure. This also allows the oportunity to extract any teeth that are loose or diseased during the procedure.

Anesthesia monitoring–When your pet is under anesthesia, its vital signs (body temperature, heart rate, and respirations) will be monitored. This helps ensure your pet’s safety while under anesthesia.

Dental radiographs–Thess are similar to the x-rays you might receive from your own dentist. X-rays of your pet’s teeth are needed to identify any problems beneath the gum-line or abnormalities that cannot be seen through physical examination alone. They can also confirm the need for tooth extraction. Common painful problems that could be identified with radiographs are broken teeth and roots, periodontal disease, dead teeth, abscessed or infected teeth.

Scaling and polishing–A full cleaning of the tooth – above and below the gum-line - will be done. It would be impossible to clean this area on an awake dog or cat, but this is where periodontal disease begins. Using instruments much like human dentists, the tartar is removed from your pet’s teeth and then they are polished with a special paste that smooths the tooth's enamel.

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