It’s important to know the ins and outs of your pet’s dental care, as she will need an oral exam and a dental cleaning at some point in her life — ideally at each annual wellness exam, starting at age one or two years. Dogs and cats hide pain well, but they do give us hints: you may notice your cat or dog has lost appetite, has unusually bad breath, or is losing weight. These are symptoms of a painful mouth, and a hint to schedule an appointment.
Typical signs of dental disease may overlap with other illnesses but these are the (sometimes subtle) symptoms to pay attention to:
- Stinky breath
- Irritated, red gums
- Intense drooling
- Whimpering while eating
- Loose teeth (may also be discolored)
- Mouth may bleed
- Decreased energy and acting grumpy.
Gingivitis Versus Periodontal Disease
Periodontal disease (more advanced dental inflammation) affects approximately 80% of pets over three years of age and can lead to issues with your pet’s organs like heart disease, so it’s important to bring them in for regular dental exams in order to avoid the condition.
Gingivitis refers to inflammation of the gingiva, or the early stages of periodontitis, and can be reversed with dental care. Periodontitis describes inflammation of the gingiva and other structures of the periodontium; once periodontitis occurs it is difficult to reverse without a dental cleaning.
When dogs and cats get gingivitis or periodontal disease, bacteria can cause:
- Oral infections that cause bleeding
- Damage to the soft tissues and bone anchoring the teeth
- Painful abscesses
- Bacteria entering the bloodstream
- Infections elsewhere in the body
Inflammation in any part of the body can have a negative impact on your pet’s internal organs, so it’s important to keep an eye on their dental health.
What to Expect at Your Dental Cleaning
Every cleaning begins with a comprehensive oral examination, where the vet will examine your pet’s face, head, and neck. The intraoral structures, including teeth and soft tissues, are also evaluated. Full mouth radiographs (x-rays) are taken, followed by scaling and polishing, the most common dental cleaning procedures.
Dental X-rays Are Always Necessary
Dental radiology (x-rays) is extremely important, as a disease can easily be missed without examining beneath the gum line.
Is General Anesthesia Necessary for Pet Dental Exams?
General Anesthesia is needed for any comprehensive dental exam and cleaning; a pet can’t lay still while we do radiographs to look at the tooth roots and surrounding bone, dental probes to assess the pocket depth, and look for any enamel damage. Anesthetic also makes the process more efficient: In the event, a bad tooth is found upon examination, it can be extracted on the spot, as the pet is already under anesthesia.
Pre-anesthetic Lab Work is Essential Before Any Procedure
Pre-anesthetic lab work and an examination for underlying disorders is done a few weeks prior to any dental procedure to be sure the cleaning or treatment can be done safely. Your pet’s safety is our number one priority.
Thoughts on Anesthesia Free Dentistry
The American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC) writes that an oral exam and x-rays cannot be done on an awake pet: “During a thorough oral health exam, all surfaces of your pet’s mouth are evaluated and radiographs are taken. A sleeping pet allows a veterinarian to identify and address painful problems including broken teeth, periodontal disease or even oral tumors.”
Cleaning Your Pet’s Teeth at Home
Plaque can mineralize as soon as 24 hours after adhering to the tooth surface. Daily brushing and attention to diet can reduce plaque. At-home care is not a replacement for dental cleanings, but it’s a great way to bond with your animal companion.
Some animals with poor genetics or poor nutrition may be more susceptible to dental disease and need more dental care throughout their lives. Our experienced veterinary team can help you decide when a dental cleaning or care is needed.
Book a dental appointment for your pet today — your pets will thank you!