Good dental health is vital to the overall health of your pet. Dental disease generally follows this pathway:
Pet eats -> food stuck between teeth -> digested by bacteria in the mouth -> forms plaque -> gingivitis (inflamed, infected gums) -> plaque hardens to form tartar/calculus -> pushes under the gum line -> deeper infection of the teeth/root/gums known as periodontal (dental) disease -> loose teeth, bone loss, tooth root abscesses, bacteria shedding into the bloodstream -> bacteria spreads throughout the body -> can damage the heart, kidneys, liver, etc.
Most dogs and cats require at least annual dental cleanings to maintain good oral health, and the American Animal Hospital Association recommends dental cleanings annually after 1 year of age for cats and small dogs or 2 years of age for large dogs. To be effective this must be done under general anesthesia in a veterinary setting.
Anesthesia-free dental cleanings are not effective in thoroughly treating and evaluating dental diseases. Link to an evaluation of anesthesia-free dental cleanings: https://avdc.org/download/30/position-statements/2876/dental-scaling-without-anesthesia.pdf
Patient history, physical exam, and initial oral survey
Patient placed under general gas anesthesia with strict monitoring
Flush mouth with an antiseptic solution to reduce external bacterial counts
Removal of tartar above the gum line (tartar on the visible part of the tooth)
Removal of tartar under the gum line (tartar on the non-visible part of the tooth)
Probe all teeth and perform dental charting (noting abnormal pockets or other problems)
Full-mouth dental x-rays
Polish all surfaces of teeth
Flush the gum line with an antiseptic solution
Provide pain medication as needed
Make a treatment plan and schedule the next appointment
Discuss home care
Common signs of dental disease in dogs and cats:
Teeth covered in tartar
Dropping food from the mouth
Pet not wanting his/her mouth touched
Bleeding from the mouth
Swelling under the eye or along the gum line
Loss of appetite or weight loss
Many pet owners are unaware of just how involved tooth extractions can be. Extracting a tooth is a type of oral surgery and can include numbing teeth, cutting teeth with a drill, suturing gum tissue, and taking dental x-rays. If you would like more information please click on the following link to see a narrated slideshow about dental extractions:
Warning: This video contains some graphic material.
Tools to maintain good dental health:
Annual veterinary dental cleanings (small dogs may require dental treatments every 6 months as they build up tartar at a faster rate).
Tooth brushing at home daily (with pet-friendly toothpaste).
Dental products/treats approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council.
Feeding a dental diet designed to prevent/remove tartar buildup.