Dental Health

Think about how much your pets use their mouths: not just for eating and drinking, but playing, grooming, and chewing.  Dental disease is a serious problem, affecting many dogs and cats without their owners even being aware of it.  Our pets require regular dental cleanings as well as at home care throughout their life to maintain healthy teeth and gums.  While feline and canine mouths are quite different from human mouths in some ways (e.g. dogs have 10 more teeth than humans), the same basic process of periodontal (the teeth and surrounding tissues) disease formation exists.  Bacteria that normally live in the mouth can attach to the teeth, growing there and eventually hardening into dental calculus that is no longer easily brushed away.  The plaque you can see on your pet’s teeth is just the beginning of the problem though; plaque grows beneath the gum line as well and can irritate the gums, loosen the attachments of the teeth, and eventually infect the underlying bone.  Once infection starts to spread, it can enter the bloodstream and cause disease in the heart, kidney, and liver as well.  Dogs and cats can also fracture or traumatize teeth (exposing sensitive nerves) by chewing on hard substances or via trauma to the jaw.  Tooth fractures and periodontal disease both are quite painful and can make it difficult to do all those things your pet loves to do with his/her mouth.

Signs of Dental Disease:  Animals are quite good at hiding signs of disease.  This comes from their wild ancestors where signs of weakness can make you an easy target for other animals.  So it is our responsibility, both the veterinary team and the pet owner, to look for signs of disease that may be subtle.  Get in the habit of looking in your pet’s mouth, as this will be important for home care as well.  When determining the condition of your pets dental health, we classify it on a stage of 1-4. Each stage varies in the severity of the common dental signs which include bad breath, reddened gums, yellow or brown build-up on the teeth, and pain.  Painful pets may resist you looking in or touching their mouths; they may be reluctant to eat, have difficulty chewing hard kibble, and dogs may not be interested in chewing or playing games that use their mouth.  If you notice any of these signs, make an appointment so that one of our veterinarians can examine your pet.  We also examine your pet’s mouth at his/her regular check-ups so that we can make recommendations for additional work needed.

This image below shows the four different stages of dental disease

Dental Treatment:  After examining your dog or cat’s mouth, we may recommend scheduling a dental cleaning with possible additional treatment.  Generally, we will start your pet on antibiotics a few days prior to their appointment, as cleaning the bacteria from their teeth puts them at a slightly higher risk of infection.  At this appointment your pet will be anesthetized, as this is the only way to ensure a thorough and painless dental exam and cleaning.  While anesthesia may seem quite scary, we recommend blood work first to make sure your pet is healthy enough for the procedure and have a licensed technician monitoring their vital signs throughout.  With these precautions, anesthesia is quite safe and allows us to clean above and below the gum line without the animal feeling any pain.  If a tooth has been fractured or its attachments compromised, it must be removed.  We are able to remove most teeth at our clinic, but certain teeth have such extensive root structures, that we make recommend seeing a dental specialist if these teeth need removal.  After the teeth have been cleaned and polished and any problems addressed, an optional topical sealant (Oravet) can be applied.  Oravet gel can then be applied at home to your pet’s teeth and gums to prevent plaque build-up.  Your pet is then monitored closely as they recover from anesthesia and once they are fully awake started on pain medications.  One of our technicians will go over the procedure and what we found with you, when you come to pick up your pet.  They can also answer any questions about home care to prevent future problems.

Home Care:  Brushing your pet’s teeth may seem difficult, but with a little patience it can become just a part of your regular routine.  Brushing is the best way to prevent tartar build-up and periodontal disease.

Here are some tips for making brushing your pet’s teeth easier:
Start early.  Getting your dog or cat used to having their mouth examined and their teeth brushed at an early age will make your job easier as they get older and bigger.  (While you’re at it, go ahead and examine those little puppy and kitten ears, skin, and feet.  This makes them less nervous for veterinary exams and grooming and allows you to notice changes sooner.)

Go Slow.  Don’t expect to brush every tooth in your dog’s mouth the first day you buy a toothbrush.  Start by touching your pet’s lips and muzzle, work up to rubbing their teeth and gums with a washcloth or gauze soaked in something tasty like chicken broth or tuna juice.  Keep these sessions short and reward them with praise and play.  Finally introduce the toothbrush once they are used to having their mouth handled.  It is especially important to work gradually with cats as they can become stressed easily.

Don’t get discouraged.  If you need help, let us know, we are happy to help formulate a specific plan for you and your pet.  While brushing your pet’s teeth daily is ideal, we recognize that this is not always possible, and have some adjunctive treatments available that can help prevent dental disease in conjunction with brushing.  These include oral gels, dental chews, water additives, and dental diets.


Take an active role in preventing dental disease (and its associated complications) in your pet by practicing good oral hygiene at home, scheduling regular veterinary check-ups, and dental cleanings as recommended.