Dentistry has been growing in veterinary medicine because doctors and pet owners are realizing that if the mouth isn’t comfortable, the animal isn’t comfortable. Dentistry includes regular exams of the mouth along with tooth brushing and regular dental cleaning. It also includes tooth extraction, tooth restoration and root canal procedures when necessary.
Your pet's dental health is a very important part of his or her overall health. According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have oral disease by the age of 3. It is the most frequently diagnosed health problem in pets. Dental disease is an often unrecognized source of pain in pets. Many owners don't realize how much pain and discomfort their pet is in until they have had dental work. It is amazing how much better our pets feel after their dental procedures.
Read more about our comprehensive dental care here.
Common signs of oral disease include:
Red and swollen gums
Changes in eating or chewing habits
Pawing at the face
Dental disease causes pain and can affect other organs in the body: bacteria in the mouth can get into the bloodstream and may cause serious kidney infections, liver disease, lung disease, and heart valve disease. Oral disease can also indicate that another disease process is occurring elsewhere in a pet's body. A thorough physical exam combined with appropriate laboratory work can determine if this is the case.
The American Animal Hospital Association recommends regular oral examinations and dental cleanings, under general anesthesia, for all adult dogs and cats. A veterinarian should evaluate your pet's dental health at least once a year. This is recommended because bacteria and food debris accumulates around pets' teeth and, if left unchecked, will lead to deterioration of the soft tissue and bone surrounding the teeth. This decay results in irreversible periodontal disease and even tooth loss. We can recommend and demonstrate preventative measures you can begin at home. Our wellness program emphasizes and explains how you can avoid costly dental procedures with your pet in the future.
We practice routine dentistry and Dr. Ricci really recommends dental procedures. We clean, scale and polish teeth regularly. We also perform routine extractions as necessary and occasional dental surgery where necessary.
Our dental procedure includes routine blood screening to be sure the internal organs can handle the anesthesia and the blood will clot properly. We then use safe, fast acting anesthesia to put your pet under while the tartar is removed with an ultrasonic scaler. All the teeth are polished and each tooth is examined for periodontal disease and tooth stability. If teeth are loose, they are evaluated to see if they need to be extracted. Part of the dental procedure includes x-rays of all the teeth. These x-rays tell us if teeth need to be extracted. We can only see 40 percent of the truth in the mouth. The rest of the tooth (60 percent) is below the gum line. X-rays allow us to see that area.
If teeth need to be extracted, we always block the nerve first with lidocaine (similar to Novocain in people) and Bupivicaine, which lasts longer than lidocaine. This helps the animal to have less pain after surgery and helps to keep the anesthesia level lower for your pet's safety. We elevate the root from the jaw and extract the teeth. Occasionally, work is done on teeth that have more than one root. These teeth need to be split in half (or in some cases into 3 pieces for 3 rooted teeth) and each root needs to be extracted separately. Often we need to do a surgical procedure called a gingival flap which involves cutting the gingiva or gums and suturing them back together after the tooth has been extracted.
Dental work is very rewarding because it is extremely helpful for your pet to be healthier, live longer, be more comfortable and pain free.
Brushing your pet’s teeth is a sure way to help them live longer and to save you money. Every night we brush our teeth to clean off the soft tartar that has accumulated from the interaction of the food we eat, saliva, and the bacteria in our mouths. This soft tartar will turn into very hard tartar if it is not brushed off. This actually happens in people too and is one of the reasons you go to have your teeth professionally cleaned once or twice a year.
Hard tartar (called calculus) builds up on the teeth and looks unsightly. It also is a great place for bacteria to grow, especially at the base of the tartar and teeth. The bacteria work their way up the periodontal ligament leading to pockets, eventually loosen teeth, and can also get into the blood stream and cause problems with the heart and/or kidneys.
All pets make some degree of tartar but some breeds are particularly prone to dental disease. This is probably partly a genetically inherited problem. Small breeds in particular need regular dental care - especially Poodles, Maltese, Schnauzers and Yorkshires to name a few. A few large or giant breeds (Great Danes, for example) are especially prone to dental problems.
Tooth brushing is best started when your animal is young. It is best to start with something soft (gauze on your fingertip) and then work your way up to a brush. We recommend brushing the outside of the teeth daily. It is very helpful to hold the mouth gently shut so they do not chew your finger or the brush. And it is best to brush daily. It establishes a good habit and does the best at controlling the tartar. Using a good quality pet toothpaste helps to make the experience more pleasant. Do NOT use human toothpaste. It contains fluoride, which is toxic to your pet because they swallow it (it can be toxic to us too but we spit it out).
Cats can have a special problem with their teeth called resorptive lesions or FORLS. In this disease, the body tries to reabsorb the tooth. This can happen above the gum line or below it, so dental x-rays are especially important. Very little is known about why this occurs but it is very painful. Many cats hide pain incredibly well. But even though they don’t show the pain does not mean they are not feeling it. They just can’t tell us, so they develop coping strategies like chewing on the other side of their mouth or avoiding chewing as much as possible (which can lead to weight loss).
The only thing that can be done to treat resorptive lesions at this point is to extract the tooth. This can be very difficult because the tooth is already very weak and often breaks off before or during the dental procedure. It can be difficult to extract these roots and often requires dental surgery.
Except for very simple dental prophylaxis, our patients that get dental procedures go home with pain medication since pain control is one of the most important things after dental surgery. Occasionally antibiotics are necessary in a mouth that is infected. Any suture (stitches) that we put in will dissolve on their own. The mouth heals very quickly so often we recommend soft food for a few days (3) but after that they can eat hard food just fine.
We recommend waiting to start to brush the teeth for about a week or two following the procedure in order to let the mouth rest and heal. We would like you to schedule a follow-up appointment so we can check to see that everything has healed well. We will also demonstrate how to brush pets' teeth so you can get onto a preventive program.
Chewing and Rinsing
People ask if hard food, Greenies or raw hides help prevent tartar and calculus. Really, any chewing helps, but it's all a question of degree. Hard food is not hard enough to help the teeth a lot. Greenies help a little as do dental sticks or rawhides. Large smoked knuckle bones can be helpful but they can cause GI problems in some dogs. DO NOT give cooked bones of any sort to dogs. They splinter and can cause perforations (holes) in the mouth and esophagus. They can also cause all kinds of gastro-intestinal issues.
Specially formulated pet foods and treats are also helpful in keeping your pet's teeth healthy. Dr. Ricci can help you develop a preventive dental care plan best for your pet.
Oravet chews are a new product that we are finding to be very helpful in maintaining pets' dental hygiene. They provide help with plaque removal and have a compound in them that neutralizes odor in the mouth.