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Dental Health for Pets

Dental problems are a big problem for pets, just like they are for humans. Veterinarians check on the health of a pet’s gums and teeth as part of their annual exam. Poor oral health can lead to serious health conditions for pets, and pet owners must realize the importance of maintaining good dental standards for their pets. They can ensure dental health through professional treatment from a veterinarian and by regular care in the home.

Veterinary Dentistry

Dentistry for pets involves the evaluation, cleaning, repair, extraction, and adjustment of teeth. Often veterinarians perform dental care, but there are also veterinary dentists, who work with pets with more challenging dental health issues. Sometimes veterinary technicians perform some of this care under the supervision of a veterinarian. X-rays are taken if there are concerns about the health of the jaw or the teeth beneath the gum line. Most dental disease, in humans and animals, starts under the gums where it’s hard to see. Thorough dental cleanings and examinations on pets must take place under general anesthesia. While the pet is asleep their teeth are scaled and polished much like human teeth are during their dental checkups and cleanings. The goal is to leave the teeth free of plaque and tarter.

Oral Health in Pets

Pet owners shouldn’t wait for the animal’s yearly checkup if they see any signs of deteriorating oral health. Issues to look for include chronic bad breath, broken teeth, loose teeth, discolored teeth, abnormal drooling, decrease in appetite, signs of pain around the mouth, blood around the gums, or swelling in the tissues of the mouth. Pets can develop cavities and other painful issues just like humans, including periodontal disease, which is the most common oral health issue for both dogs and cats. By the time a pet is three years old, most have some sign of the disease. When it’s caught early treatment can keep it from progressing. When left unchecked, not only does it cause painful oral health issues but it also can impact a pet’s heart, liver, and kidneys.

Periodontal disease begins when plaque on the teeth is allowed to harden into tartar. When tartar is above the gumline it can be removed by a thorough dental cleaning. Tartar, and plaque, that migrates beneath the gumline allow infection to set in and damage both the jaw bone and the connecting tissue. When periodontal disease is discovered it’s graded on a scale of 0-4, with 4 being severe. When a veterinarian spots signs of the disease, treatment starts with a thorough evaluation that begins with a cleaning and x-rays, and then works with the owner to make a treatment plan.

Why Must Pets Have Anesthesia for Cleanings?

People know what’s happening when they go to the dentist for a cleaning. Humans also can give the dentist feedback about how things feel. Pets don’t understand what’s happening and can’t provide feedback. They feel like they are being attacked. It’s very painful and stressful for pets, and they can react in ways that put the veterinary staff in danger. Placing them under sedation is very safe and allows them to undergo necessary procedures with less stress and pain. It also allows the veterinarian to properly perform all dental procedures and thoroughly evaluate the pet’s teeth.

Oral Health at Home

Prevention is the most important step in good oral health for pets and people. Just like humans, animals need to have plaque and tartar removed from their teeth. Brushing works! Pets whose teeth are brushed often don’t need as many dental cleanings or dental procedures as pets whose teeth aren’t brushed. Daily brushing is recommended, but even just regular weekly brushing can make a big difference. Brushing an animal’s teeth can feel overwhelming. Luckily, most pets learn to accept gentle brushing from their owners. Even cats can grow accustomed to the routine. Owners can also talk to their vets about what chew toys, treats, and diets work with brushing to optimize their pet’s oral health.


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