February Is Veterinary Dental Health Month

Have you ever noticed that your dog’s breath smells, well, doggie? Does your cat avoid hard food? Are your pets just a little more sluggish as they get older? This can be dental disease in pets!

Have you ever noticed that your dog’s breath smells, well, doggie?  Does your cat avoid hard food?  Are your pets just a little more sluggish as they get older?

Believe it or not, these are all symptoms of dental disease.  As veterinarians, we hear many stories, but let’s look at a few facts.  Between 66% and 75% of cats and dogs, over the age of 3 years old, have dental disease serious enough to need veterinary attention.  Many of these animals need advanced care, including subgingival curettage (cleaning in deep gum pockets), extraction, root canals, and yes, even orthodontics. 

Oral disease starts and ends with bacteria.  It’s no wonder why their mouths smell.  Bacteria in the mouth mix with your pet’s saliva and eventually form plaque, the sticky film in the mouth.  If the plaque is not removed within a few hours, it will form tartar.  Tartar is a calcified form of the bacteria and can no longer be removed by brushing.  The bacteria in the tartar will eventually move its way into the gums, the bone, the blood stream, and finally the heart, kidneys, or lungs.  This path is the reason that oral disease can, and does, lead to problems throughout the entire body.

Veterinary treatment of disease in the mouth is a multi-step process.  Every patient must be placed under anesthesia.  Next, the teeth are cleaned with an ultrasonic scaler and hand tools are used to remove all of the tartar.  The area under the gum line is also cleaned, if possible, to stop the bacteria from entering the gums.  A veterinarian then will evaluate the structure of each tooth with a thorough examination.  At this step, x-rays are sometimes needed to help determine if problems exist under the gum.  Finally, the teeth are polished to smooth any imperfections and retard growth of tartar.  As I said before, other treatment may be necessary to help fix the mouth and is often done after a thorough exam under anesthesia.

Can I do anything to help?

Yes.  The good news is that there is a tremendous amount that you can do to help reduce the severity of the disease.  However, your dog or cat will need veterinary dental care no matter what you do at home. 

Feeding hard food is a good start to a healthy mouth.  There are several hard foods that go above and beyond your typical hard foods in preventing dental disease.  These foods have the seal of the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council).   Many veterinarians, including Franksville Veterinary Clinic, carry Hill’s T/D to help promote dental health.

Brushing your dog or cat’s teeth (see video) also helps slow the progression of dental disease.  Brushing should be done daily.  Research suggests that brushing less than three times per week is worthless.  The sad truth is that the groomer that brushes your dog’s teeth every 6 weeks is not doing anything to help your pet.

Where should I start?

The first place to start is with your veterinarian.  We can teach you how to brush your puppy’s or kitten’s teeth at the first visit to get them started off on the right foot.  If your pet is older, we can talk about the severity of their disease and other problems that may affect the overall health of your pet.  Annual or semi-annual examinations of the mouth are the cornerstone to preventing severe problems. 

How often do pets need their teeth cleaned?

It depends.  I’ve look at some pets mouths that have been brushed daily and find they need to be cleaned every other year.  I have looked in other mouths that need to be cleaned every 6 months.  Breed, age, diet, and genetics all factor into the frequency of professional dental care.

Does my pet really need to be under anesthesia?

Yes.  I have worked with many pets, including my own.  There are none that will allow a proper cleaning under the gum line.  It is dangerous for the pet to even attempt this while they are awake.  The American College of Veterinary Dentistry is the leading expert in veterinary dentistry and they do NOT recommend any animal have anesthesia free dentistry.  Most experts consider anesthesia free dentistry to be malpractice.

My pet is old, is anesthesia safe?

I have heard this concern many times.  Although there is risk associated with every procedure, anesthesia may be safe even for our oldest pets.  I have personally placed 19 year old cats and dogs under anesthesia for dental work.  Pre-surgical examinations, pre-surgical blood work, IV catheters, warming blankets, and gas anesthesia are all part of increasing the safety for your pet.  Even if it is determined your pet should not have anesthesia today, we can often address the underlying problems so anesthesia may be safe tomorrow.

Often, the risk of not having a dental performed is riskier than anesthesia.  As we said before, the bacteria in the mouth and the blood stream pose a significant risk to your pet’s life.  Leaving the bacteria in the mouth and blood stream only increases the risk of heart failure, kidney failure, and other “old age” diseases.  Talk with your veterinarian about your pet’s specific needs.


February is National Veterinary Dental Mouth.  Veterinarians  everywhere take this opportunity to let our clients know about the importance of a good healthy mouth.  Please take time to ask us at Franksville Veterinary Clinic how you can take care of your pet's mouth.

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EmpthyCursed January 16, 2013 at 12:37 PM
What about easing the cost of these cleanings just in February? I'd take my little guy then. I was quoted $250 to fix his teeth. Kinda steep when you are having trouble with your own kids dentist bills.
Dr. Edward Susmilch January 16, 2013 at 10:35 PM
It's a great question. Many veterinarians, including Franksville Veterinary Clinic, offer some discounts to encourage participation in National Veterinary Dental Month. Unfortunately, it is not inexpensive, even with the discounts. Since none of our patients can receive this procedure without anesthesia, the cost is often more than human dental cleanings. Add to that, the cost of presurgical blood work and intravenous catheters, which are not needed in human dentistry, it is no wonder that these procedures cost more. Talk to your vet, there is a very real possibility of some help being offered during February.


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