Dental health is an important part of your pet’s overall health. Untreated periodontal disease can lead to chronic infections, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease and chronic pain. Having a comprehensive dental exam and cleaning under anesthesia is one of the best investments you can make in your pet’s overall health.

Periodontal disease is one of the most common diseases in our pets. The good news is that it is completely preventable.

What is Periodontal Disease?

So what is periodontal disease and what are the clinical signs we as pet owners can see or smell? Periodontal disease begins when bacteria in the mouth forms plaque which will mineralized with saliva to form tartar. Tartar on the surface of the teeth can be seen but it is not the cause of periodontal disease. The real problem begins when the tartar progresses beneath the gumline causing gum recession, bone loss, loose teeth, bone infections and even fractures of the jaw. Signs to look for in your pet include: bad breath, broken teeth, reluctance to eat or chew toys, chewing on one side of mouth, pawing at the mouth, drooling, facial swelling, nasal discharge or sneezing. If you notice any of these signs we recommend scheduling an appointment to see if your pet may need a comprehensive dental cleaning.

What does a dental cleaning entail?

A dental process begins with an oral exam by a veterinarian and intraoral radiographs (x-rays) to evaluate the health of the jaw and tooth roots below the gumline. Most dental disease occurs below the gumline, where it can’t be seen and in order to evaluate appropriately the patient must be under anesthesia. A comprehensive cleaning is then done by ultrasonic scaling to remove the plaque and tartar on the crown of the teeth and below the gumline. This process is very similar to the regular cleaning you receive from your dental hygienist. Then if needed during the procedure oral surgery will be performed to extract (remove) any diseased teeth.

Is anesthesia safe during a dental cleaning?

Anesthesia makes it possible to perform the best dental cleaning because your pet is not moving around or feeling any pain. Unlike us they don’t understand the importance of the dental procedure and can’t communicate exactly which tooth hurts. Without anesthesia your pet would react by moving, trying to escape or even biting. It may be scary and may cause anxiety to some owners to consider having their pet under anesthesia. Although anesthesia will always have risks, it’s safer now than ever and continues to improve so the risks are lower and far outweighs the benefits. Most pets go home the same day of the procedure. Any fears or anxieties about your pet and anesthesia can be discussed with your veterinarian.

What can I do at home to help keep my pet’s teeth clean?

Prevention of periodontal disease before and after a dental cleaning can benefit your pet. Things you can do at home include daily brushing of your pet’s teeth using a toothpaste special formulated for animals. If daily brushing is not possible a couple times a week can still be beneficial. In some cases, brushing may not be possible, especially in cats. We here at PAH can help by offering an alternative in the form of appropriate dental treats or diets to help reduce the plaque and tartar load. Nothing replaces brushing but there are benefits to these alternatives.

If you are concerned that your pet may be suffering from periodontal disease the first thing to do is to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. If your Veterinarian determines that your pet needs a dental cleaning remember this is the best investment you could make into the health of your pet.

Amie M. Dow, DVM
Prescott Animal Hospital