Many misconceptions exist about dental care in pets. Unlike in people, dental care in pets is less of a cosmetic procedure and much more a medical treatment that prevents pain and disease later in life.
It is very important that you educate yourself before your pet undergoes any dental procedure. Cleaning the tartar from the parts of the teeth above the gum line is only a very small part of dental care in pets and does nothing to address the deeper areas below the gum line and the roots of the teeth, which is where infection and disease primarily occur. While many facilities offer "teeth cleanings" for a very low fee, you often get very little benefit for your money as your pet's overall health is not improved and can actually be endangered by improper protocol.
Abscesses are one such hidden problem that can be caused by predisposing factors in pets, and can often go undetected if these factors are ignored. While dentistry generally involves teeth cleanings above and below the gum line, there are other issues we need to take into account as well. To learn more, see Spud’s case.
Riverstone Animal Hospital follows the guidelines established by the American Veterinary Dental College to give your pet the health benefit of quality dental care: Professional cleaning under properly monitored anesthesia, X-ray evaluation of all the teeth and surrounding structures, treatment of areas below the gum line, and, if needed, the ability to perform oral surgery to remove infected or damaged teeth.
Dental disease, along with its proper treatment in pets, is a rapidly emerging field, and its significance to the quality of life of our pets is increasing. Our goal on this page is to provide you with a reliable source of information and help you understand what may be going on in your pet’s mouth. For more information, please click on the topics below. We have also included a section at the bottom of the page with handouts that address frequently encountered dental issues. If you have any questions not addressed on this page, please feel free to give us a call at 770-479-7141.
Frequently Asked Questions About Pet Dental Treatment
Isn’t bad breath in pets normal?
No. Bad breath is usually caused by bacteria that form when plaque and tartar are not removed from teeth, which can then cause gum infection. A pet with healthy teeth and gums will not have an unpleasant mouth odor.
Why does my pet have to be anesthetized during their dental cleaning?
We use sharp, mechanical instruments in the mouth that could be dangerous to use if your pet is awake, since all patient must be completely still for treatment to be effective. In addition, we scale below the gum line, since that is where most tooth decay begins, which would also be impossible without the patient being completely still.
How do I know my pet will be safe with general anesthesia?
To ensure your pet’s safety, we perform pre-anesthetic blood work to examine the internal organs and blood cells to detect any underlying diseases. In addition, we place an intravenous catheter on every anesthetized pet. This provides a warmed electrolyte solution during the procedure for stable blood pressure and a faster recovery. We also assign a trained technician to monitor your pet’s blood pressure, blood oxygen level, ECG, and body temperature before, during, and after the procedure.
How much does a professional dental cleaning cost for my pet?
The cost is varies, depending on the presence of gum disease and the stage of gum disease. If your pet only requires a preventative dental cleaning (prophylaxis), the cost will be lower. If your pet has gum disease and requires periodontal therapy or a tooth extraction, the cost will be higher. Another factor that determines the final cost is the use of x-rays, which are needed to view below the gum line. The use of anesthesia, safety monitoring, blood testing, IV fluids, and pain medication are also included in the cost.
Why are x-rays so important when treating my pet’s teeth?
Dental x-rays allow us to examine the teeth roots and bone below the gum line, where most dental problems occur. Dental x-rays also let us detect significant and/or painful problems, such as fractured teeth, tooth root abscesses, tooth resorption (very common in cats), and bone loss requiring extraction. For additional information, please refer to our handout that further details The Importance of Dental Radiographs.
How can I maintain my pet’s teeth from home so he/she won’t need as much professional dental treatment?
We recommend that you start caring for your pet’s teeth at home as soon as possible, preferably when they’re very young. The at-home regimen should include brushing or use of other effective techniques to slow accumulation of dental plaque, such as dental diets and chew materials. This, combined with regular examination and cleaning by one of our veterinarians, can help your pet have better oral health and live a longer life. For effective oral hygiene product recommendations for dogs and cats, visit The Veterinary Oral Health Council.
The Significance of Dental and Gum Disease
Periodontal disease is the most frequently diagnosed health problem in pets. An astounding 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats show signs of periodontal disease by age 3, according to the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS).
Most people have their teeth cleaned primarily for cosmetic reasons and to prevent any problems from occurring. In pets, however, the treatment done to the teeth and gums during a professional "cleaning" is much more involved as most pets have much more advanced dental disease than humans. Pets do not brush their teeth twice daily like people, and, therefore, develop significant tartar build up and gum disease much faster and much more severely than people. The health risks, however, are the same for pets as for people.
It is important to understand that periodontal disease is an active, ongoing disease process in our pets that causes not only significant pain, inflammation, and damage to the teeth and gums, but also leads to damage of inner organs such as heart, kidneys, and liver. Once periodontal disease happens, it is irreversible, and the pet needs professional treatment at regular intervals for life in order to control and minimize the risks and discomfort.
Studies have shown that the level of pain associated with dental disease is significant, even though the pet generally appears to be comfortable and has no problems chewing their food. The best time to address the teeth and gums is when the pet is relatively healthy and no irreversible changes have happened.
Identifying Problems: How Can I Tell If My Pet Has Gum Disease?
If your pet will allow it, open its mouth and look inside. Look for the warning signs of gum disease, such as bad breath, red and swollen gums, a yellow-brown crust of tartar around the gum line, and pain or bleeding when you touch the gums or mouth. Seek veterinary care if you notice any of these problems. For more information, please view our educational handout on The Stages of Periodontal Disease.
What Causes Gum Disease?
Bacteria, combined with saliva and food debris between the tooth and gum, can cause plaque formations that accumulate on the tooth. As bacteria grow in the plaque, and as calcium salts are deposited, plaque turns to tartar. Bacterial plaque is the most important substrate in the development of periodontal disease. The inflammation and destruction that accompanies periodontal disease results from the direct action of bacteria and their by-products on periodontal tissues as well as the indirect activation of the host immune response.
Without proper preventive or therapeutic care, plaque and tartar buildup lead to periodontal disease, which affects the tissues and structures supporting the teeth. Periodontal disease causes red, swollen, tender and receding gums; bleeding; pain; and bad breath. If left untreated, it can lead to tooth loss. Tartar has a contributory role due to its roughened surface, which enhances bacterial attachment and further plaque development. It also irritates gingival tissues.
What to Expect During Your Pet’s Dental/Gum Treatment
Here at Riverstone Animal Hospital, we take great care to treat care your pet safely and help them recover quickly. Each dental treatment includes pre-anesthetic safety screening, antibiotics, pain control, warmed electrolyte fluids, and continually supervised anesthesia and recovery. To provide our patients with the best results, we use the following six-step dental treatment:
Step 1: We evaluate the mouth, gums, and teeth for gum disease, fractured teeth, infection, and masses. The results are recorded in your pet’s records.
Step 2: Using an ultrasonic scaler, we clean above the gum line to remove tartar buildup.
Step 3: We clean below the gum line using a hand scaler and curette.
Step 4: We polish the surface of the teeth with fluoride paste to smooth out rough spots and strengthen the enamel.
Step 5: We take dental x-rays to evaluate the tooth roots, which is where many dental problems occur. X-rays also allow us to check for bone loss and missing or fractured teeth.
Step 6: We evaluate the gum pockets and provide any necessary treatments, including antibiotics, root planning, gum surgery, or surgical tooth extractions.
Anesthesia and Veterinary Dental Treatment
Anesthesia is essential for veterinary dental procedures to ensure that the procedure can be completed successfully. Fear of general anesthesia is a natural concern voiced by many owners when a dental procedure is recommended.
Why Is Anesthesia Necessary?
- Dental tartar is firmly adhered to the teeth. Removal of the tartar is accomplished using ultrasonic power scalers, plus hand instruments that must have a sharp working edge to be used effectively
- Even slight head movement by the patient could result in injury to the oral tissues of the patient
- Due to the fact that pets do not understand what is going on and will not voluntarily hold still, access to the area under the gum line of every tooth is impossible in an awake pet
Inhalation anesthesia using a cuffed endotracheal tube (breathing tube placed in pet’s airway) also provides three important advantages:
- Reduced stress in the pet during a procedure he does not understand
- Elimination of pain resulting from examination and treatment of affected dental tissues during the procedure
- Protection of the airway and lungs from accidental inhalation of the fluid and debris produced during the treatment.
What Is Done to Assure the Safety of My Pet?
We take your concern about anesthesia very seriously, and no procedure is ever considered "routine" at our hospital. Multiple measures are in place to assure maximum safety, minimal stress, and quick and gentle recovery:
- Safety starts out with blood testing. Evaluating the internal organs and blood cells in this manner improves safety by detecting underlying disease.
- Inhalant (gas) anesthesia has tremendously improved safety by allowing us to make instant adjustments to the level of sleep anytime during your pet’s treatment.
- We place an intravenous catheter on every anesthetized pet. This allows us anytime access to the blood stream in case medication needs to be administered.
- Warmed electrolyte solution is given to your pet throughout the treatment via the IV catheter to maintain hydration, blood pressure, and body temperature. This makes a significant difference in your pet’s comfort level and ease of recovery.
- Continuous monitoring of your pet’s blood pressure, blood oxygen level, ECG and body temperature all increase safety and are routinely done at our hospital. A trained technician assists in monitoring your pet during the entire procedure and throughout the recovery process until he or she is awake and able to sit up.
As veterinarians we are trained in all of these procedures. Although anesthesia will never be 100% risk-free, modern anesthetic and patient evaluation techniques have greatly reduced the risk to a point where it is minimal compared with the damage to your pet’s health caused by chronic infection and pain in the mouth.
Common Dental Topics and Treatment
Below is a list of some of the most frequently encountered dental topics and problems here at Riverstone Animal Hospital as well as how we treat them. Click on the links below to access informational handouts on each topic.
- The Stages of Periodontal Disease
- The Importance of Dental Radiographs (x-rays)
- Dental Pain in Pets
- Retained Deciduous (baby) Teeth
- Tooth Extractions
- Extraction of Multi-rooted Tooth
- Extraction of Feline Tooth
- Slab Fracture of a Cheek Tooth
- Resorptive Lesions
- Gingival Hyperplasia
- Oral Tumors