February is National Pet Dental Health Month! We’d like to share some information with you about veterinary dentistry so you can understand why dental care for your pet is crucial to their health and well-being.

The first step in evaluating your pet’s overall health and oral health is with a physical exam. With an oral exam during the physical we can get an idea of the level of plaque build-up, staining, and gingivitis. However, there is only a limited amount of information that can be gained from an un-sedated oral exam. We want to see your pets for their first dental under anesthesia before your pet has bad breath and loose teeth, as by this stage significant damage has already occurred. We never schedule a dental procedure without a physical exam first to ensure there are no contraindications to anesthesia or the procedure.

Periodontal disease is the most common disease of any kind in dogs and cats. By the age of 3 years old 80% of dogs and 70% of cats are already affected by periodontal disease. Periodontal disease starts with a buildup of bacteria in the mouth, particularly bacterial beneath the gumline. The bacteria secrete toxins that will cause gingivitis, attachment loss of the periodontal tissues which hold the tooth in place, bone loss and eventually loss of the tooth. Research has shown that there is a direct correlation between periodontal disease and concurrent infections of the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys.

There is a lot that goes into a dental for your pet. We recommend pre-anesthetic bloodwork, an IV catheter, intra-operative fluids, full gas anesthesia and anesthetic monitoring. These things help us to ensure the safety of your pet under anesthesia to the best of our ability. Gas anesthesia with an endotracheal tube is imperative. It allows for complete examination of the oral cavity and enables us to scale appropriately below the gumline without your pet feeling any pain or discomfort. The gas anesthesia ensures that your pet is fully oxygenated while protecting your pet’s airway so that they do not aspirate bacteria into their lungs during the procedure. It is impossible to do a complete dental cleaning that removes bacterial beneath the gum line without your pet being fully anesthetized. After the teeth are thoroughly cleaned with an ultrasonic scaler, the teeth are polished to help smooth any micro-abrasions in the enamel.

At Dogwood Veterinary Clinic we recommend a full set of oral radiographs with every dental procedure. This is the only way to truly evaluate the extent of disease in the oral cavity. Just because the crown of the tooth is white, and the tooth is immobile doesn’t mean that there isn’t damage beneath the gumline. One study found that 28% of visually normal teeth in dogs have pathology found radiographically and 42% of visually normal teeth in cats have important radiographic findings. Radiographs can reveal bone loss, tooth resorption and tooth root abscesses. If there are any teeth that the degree of bone loss is too great for the tooth to be saved the veterinarian will recommend that those teeth be extracted. Dogs are also notorious for breaking teeth, which can leave the pulp cavity exposed causing pain, discomfort and can eventually lead to infection. Any broken teeth will be evaluated and removed if deemed necessary.

Removing the bacteria beneath the gum line and removing diseased and infected teeth will make your pet more comfortable, they will eat better, and can even increase their energy level and prolong their life. The best way to prolong your pet’s dental health is with daily brushing. There are also treats and toys that can help prevent tartar and build up, but this does not replace the need for annual prophylactic cleaning, oral examination under anesthesia and oral radiographs. Not all toys and treats will help with tartar buildup, and some can lead to broken teeth, so check with us about which dental chews we recommend. We are here to help maintain a healthy oral cavity for pets in Louisville, Crestwood, and Prospect, Kentucky. You can also read about our other services here. We’d love to see you for an initial exam, and we can go over all aspects of the dental with you and do an oral exam on your pet.