Pet Dental Care

While I am not a Buddhist, I often tell my clients that if I did believe in
reincarnation I would want to come back as one of their pets. The amount of care,
compassion, and dedication my clients show to their pets is unmatched as they treat
their furkids as part of the family. Yet even with this care and love displayed, one of the
most common medical problems I still face in my veterinary practice is dental disease.
It is estimated by the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) that by the age
of three, the vast majority of dogs and cats have evidence of periodontal disease that
will generally worsen with age without intervention. Dental disease can be both a sign
of, and a cause of disease elsewhere in the body. When I visit the dentist for my
bi-annual cleanings, the dental hygienist who scolds me for not flossing enough reminds
me to think of flossing your heart when you are flossing your teeth. Her point is that
dental disease can lead to infection elsewhere in the body including the heart, kidneys,
bladder, and liver. Thus, it is of vital importance for people and their pets to prioritize
their dental health.
Dental care is generally divided into two categories, home care and professional
dental cleanings. Home care can make a significant difference in the progression of
dental disease. Dental disease is often a function of diet, mouth conformation, a pet’s
immune system, and preventative measures taken or lack thereof. The gold standard
for pets as it is with people is daily teeth brushing. Full disclosure: I do not brush my
pets teeth with consistency and I would feel like a hypocrite if I chastised my clients who
do not manage daily teeth brushings on their pets either. There are, however, other
products that can be used that benefit oral health. Additives to water that often contain
chlorhexiderm will disinfect bacteria in the mouth when they drink. There are diets and
chews that also help remove plaque through mechanical and chemical means.
Additionally, there are probiotics which contribute to oral hygiene. It is vital to discuss
home care with your veterinarian so that he or she can help you tailor an individual
home dental care plan suitable and realistic for you and your pet’s lifestyle.
Even with the best home care, professional dental cleanings are generally
necessary during the life of a pet. The major difference between human and veterinary
dental care is the requirement of general anesthesia for pets While there are groomers
and other individuals who will offer “dental cleanings” without general anesthesia, the
AVMA recognizes the medical necessity of cleaning below the gum line to combat
periodontal disease which is not possible in an awake pet. Consequently, the AVMA
does not recommend or encourage dental cleanings without the use of general
anesthesia. As with all anesthetic procedures, ask questions about who will be
performing the procedure, what type of monitoring equipment will be used and who is
monitoring, whether an intravenous catheter will be placed, and whether IV fluids will be
administered. Veterinary hospitals today should be happy to answer these questions,
and the use of equipment to monitor a patient’s EKG, their pulse oxygen levels, blood
pressure, and breathing rates should be standard for any surgery or dental procedure.
Pre-anesthetic bloodwork should be recommended if not required at a veterinary
practice especially with older animals.
Once these questions are answered and a client is comfortable with the entirety
of the procedure, the actual dental cleaning can begin. Other than the general
anesthesia used, dental cleanings for pets and people are remarkably similar. The
teeth are cleaned, polished, and charted, X-rays are taken if required, and extractions
are performed if necessary. Typically if there is a cavity and you want a root canal, or a
filling, a veterinary dentist is required. Veterinary dentists generally recommend yearly
or even bi annual cleanings to maximize a pet’s dental health and minimize the chances
of secondary infections. While the cleaning procedures are similar in people, the
diseases and conditions in dog’s and cat’s mouths can be unique to their species. Cats,
for instance, can develop feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORL, aka TR, cervical
neck lesions, or feline cavities) which can be painful and visually looks as if the tooth is
melting away at the gum line. This resorption of the tooth by odontoclasts is a uniquely
feline condition that has occurred in cats since ancient times as feline mummies
examined from ancient Egypt also displayed this disease process occurring. In addition
to species specific conditions, certain breeds of dogs and cats are significantly more
prone to dental disease and require more home and professional care throughout the
course of their life.
Dental disease is important for a person’s and a pet’s overall health. Make sure
to ask about your pet’s dental health at your next veterinary appointment and what
preventative steps and procedures are recommended to maximize your pet’s oral
health. In addition to the fresh breath that everyone craves, the benefits to a pet of a
dental cleaning can extend throughout their body and help improve their overall quality
of life.
[ Dr. Cryan can be reached at or by calling 1-866-946-PETS (7387) ]

Pet Lovers Companion P.O. Box 239 Mount Vernon, VA 22121 703-780-4400 Copyright © 2002-2019, Meyers Marketing. All Rights Reserved.