Why should I brush my pet’s teeth?

Plaque is continually forming on your pet’s teeth. Plaque is an accumulation of bacteria that forms at the gum line. When plaque is not removed daily with tooth brushing, calculus then forms irritating the gums further and causing infection. This infection then spreads under the gum line causing destruction of the attachments that hold the teeth in place. In addition to creating loose teeth, infection under the gum line can spread to the kidney, liver and heart. Daily removal of plaque is the key to an effective oral hygiene program.

How often does my pet need to have its teeth cleaned by the veterinarian?

It depends on the degree of plaque and tartar accumulation. You can perform regular oral exams on your pet. If you see an accumulation of yellow or brown material at the area where the tooth meets the gum line or if the gum line appears red above the tooth, it is time for a professional teeth cleaning.

Can I just remove the calculus myself with my fingernail or dental scaler?

Removing the calculus from the visible part of the tooth does not treat the problem that is occurring below the gum line. It is the plaque and calculus build up under the gum line that causes periodontal disease.

Do you have to use anesthetics to clean my pet’s teeth?

Anesthesia is necessary when performing teeth cleaning. Anesthesia provides six important functions:

  1. immobilization in order to clean below the gum line
  2. pain control
  3. placement of an endo-tracheal tube to prevent calculus and other debris from entering the respiratory system and to maintain an airway
  4. thorough evaluation of tooth roots with dental x-rays
  5. evaluation of pocket depths around each tooth
  6. ability to treat or extract diseased teeth

What is involved in a routine teeth cleaning at your hospital?

  1. A physical exam is performed prior to placing your pet under anesthesia.
  2. Preoperative blood work is performed and evaluated.
  3. An intravenous catheter is placed to give fluids and any necessary drugs during the procedure.
  4. Your pet is placed under a general anesthetic and their heart rate, heart rhythm (ECG), blood pressure, body temperature and SpO2 (percentage of oxygen saturation in blood) are monitored during the entire procedure by a certified veterinary technician. Your pet is also placed under a forced air warming blanket.
  5. Your pet’s teeth are then hand scaled and ultrasonically cleaned above and below the gum line.
  6. Radiographs of your pet’s teeth are then taken.
  7. Your pet’s teeth are then charted and pocket depths are measured for each tooth.
  8. Your pet’s teeth are then polished to remove small scratches on the surface of the tooth.
  9. A veterinarian then evaluates the radiographs and performs an oral exam. Checking for fractured teeth, discolored teeth, wear patterns of the teeth and oral cancer.
  10. Your pet is then recovered from the anesthesia by a veterinary technician.

What if you find loose teeth or an infected tooth?

Teeth that are loose have bone loss that has occurred underneath the gum line. If the bone loss is greater than 50% we would extract the tooth. Bone loss less than 50% can be treated by root planning and application of an antibiotic material to try to get the gum to adhere back to the tooth.

If a tooth is found to have a root tip infection — surgical extraction is our only option.

If a tooth is fractured but the pulp cavity is not exposed, the tooth can be sealed.

If a tooth is fractured and the pulp cavity is exposed but the root itself looks fine, there are two options, extract the tooth or perform a root canal.

We employ a board certified veterinary dentist to perform specialized endodontic procedures.

What is involved with extractions and what is the cost?

It is difficult to give an exact estimate for extractions. The cost is dependent upon the time it takes to extract the tooth and the number of teeth extracted. If your pet needs an extraction, a local anesthetic will be instilled, a gingival flap will be made, and the bone surrounding the roots will be removed. The tooth will then be split and elevated out of the socket. This method helps prevent excessive trauma to the jaw during the extraction. The flap is then sutured closed to prevent food from accumulating in the socket and improve patient comfort.

What is periodontal disease?

Teeth are anchored in periodontal tissues consisting of gingival (gums), ligaments, cementum and supporting bone. Periodontal disease starts with the formation of plaque. Plaque starts forming within twelve hours after a thorough dental cleaning. When plaque is not removed, mineral salts in the saliva hasten the formation of hard calculus. Calculus, covered with bacteria, is irritating to the gums. By-products of bacteria destroy the tooth support structures, causing pain and periodontal disease. More than 85% of dogs and cats over the age of four years have periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease can be graded in four stages. The first two stages are classified as gingivitis and the last two as periodontitis. Thorough dental cleaning followed by home care, can usually reverse the first two stages. If the first two stages are left untreated, periodontitis can result. Periodontal disease occurs when there is bone loss in addition to gingival inflammation and infection. Once bone loss has occurred, more involved therapy than teeth cleaning is needed. Factors to be considered before periodontal surgery are: do you have a cooperative patient, is the tooth treatable, and a which procedure would best benefit the tooth and patient.

The owner of a dog or cat with periodontal disease needs to be committed to saving the animal’s teeth. This commitment includes daily brushing to remove plaque. Frequent veterinary dental examinations are also required, therefore expense should be considered.

The patient must also be a willing partner. If a dog or cat will not allow home care, it is wiser to extract a tooth rather than letting the pet suffer with dental pain.