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Dog & Cat Dental FAQ

How often does my pet need to have a professional dental cleaning by a veterinarian?
It depends on the degree of plaque and tartar accumulation. You need to examine your pet's teeth monthly. Look for an accumulation of yellow or brown material at the area where the tooth meets the gumline especially over the cheek teeth and canines. Once you notice plaque or tartar accumulation, it is time for a professional cleaning. Do not wait. Attached to the tartar are bacteria, which irritate gum tissues. When treated, the inflammation will resolve. When gingivitis is left untreated, it will progress to periodontitis, bone loss, and abscesses. The intervals between teeth cleaning procedures will depend on how much home care maintenance you can do and your pet's genetics. Once or twice daily brushing is optimum. If you cannot brush the teeth, then your pet may need two professional dental cleaning visits yearly. 

Can I just take my fingernail or a dental scaler to remove the calculus? 
Periodontal disease occurs below the gum line. By removing calculus from the tooth, you are not removing disease below the gum line. In order to thoroughly help your pet, plaque and calculus must be removed from below the gum line. 

Do you have to use anesthesia to clean my pet's teeth? 
Anesthesia is necessary when performing teeth cleaning. Anesthesia provides three important functions: immobilization in order to clean below the gum line, pain control, and the ability to place a tube into the windpipe, so bacterial products do not enter the respiratory system.  
AVDC Position Statement on Non-Anesthetic Dental Cleaning

I am concerned about the anesthesia. Is it safe? 
We take every effort to provide safe anesthesia. We use gas anesthetic agents; dogs and cats are given pre-operative tests depending on their age and condition to qualify them for anesthesia; and patients are monitored while anesthetized both visibly and with similar monitoring devices as used in human hospitals. 

What is involved in the professional dental cleaning at our hospital? 
Each Oral Assessment, Treatment, and Prevention (Oral ATP) visit has twelve separate steps: 

General exam before anesthesia, pre-operative organ testing  
Oral exam under anesthesia  
Gross calculus removal  
Subgingival (below the gumline) scaling, root planing, curettage where indicated  
Tooth polishing  
Irrigation  
OraVet® application  
Post cleaning exam and dental x-rays to evaluate the areas below the gum line  
Dental charting to create a treatment plan 
Therapy if necessary  
Home care instructions  
No-fee follow up appointment to see how well you are performing home care. 

How much does a tooth cleaning procedure cost? 
It is impossible to determine what the procedure will cost because we do not know the status of your pet's teeth and gums. The doctor or staff will provide an initial treatment plan based on exam room findings and a follow up treatment plan with fees after a tooth-by-tooth exam is conducted under anesthesia. If there are any needed extractions or x-rays this will be additional.

What is the best food for my pet's teeth? 
Hard food will help remove plaque from teeth. There are special diets specifically manufactured to help control plaque. Feeding the special diets in conjunction with daily brushing or VOHC accepted home preventative products is the best to keep the teeth clean and healthy. Diet alone will not control plaque, but it will help. 

What toys should I avoid to protect my pet's teeth?
Chewing on objects harder than teeth may lead to dental fractures. Be especially careful with cow and horse hoofs. They commonly cause fractures of the upper fourth premolars. Tug-of-war games must not be practiced, especially in young dogs and cats in order to avoid moving growing teeth to abnormal locations. Throwing dogs discs can also cause trauma to the teeth, resulting in pulpitis (an inflammation of the pulp). 

What are cat cavities? 
Many cats get painful lesions at the gum line that invade teeth. They are properly referred to as resorptive lesions.  Unfortunately, we do not know what causes tooth resorption, and the most effective treatment involves extraction of the affected tooth. Our veterinarians will check to see if your cat has an advanced resorption on our annual physical exams. These are painful, even if you think your cat isn't showing signs of pain.  These cats will consistently feel better after the tooth is removed and many owners notice a positive behavioral change after the procedure.  If you think your cat may have a resorptive lesion please schedule an appointment.

How can I tell if my pet is suffering from periodontal disease? 
The leading sign is bad breath. Dogs and cats should not have disagreeable mouth odor. Bad breath comes from infection. If your pet's breath does not smell like roses, let us examine its mouth and advise care. 

What type of tests are done to diagnose dental disease? 
If your pet has periodontal disease or a fractured tooth, an oral exam is performed while under anesthesia. A periodontal probe is used to evaluate bone loss around each tooth. X-rays are taken to evaluate if the teeth can be saved or need to be extracted.

When do I have to start worrying about dental problems with my pet? 
As soon as puppy or kitten teeth emerge, it’s time to start brushing. Although baby teeth are replaced with adult teeth, the puppy or kitten gets used to the brushing procedure, which continues for life. 

What can be done if my pet has periodontal disease? 
Periodontal disease occurs when tooth support structures are affected by infection. In the beginning stages, cleaning above and below the gum line as well as removal of calculus attached to the tooth will help restore periodontal health. In advanced cases, either periodontal surgery or extractions are performed.

Which animals are at most risk for periodontal disease? 
Smaller breeds are more prone than larger because the teeth are closer together in small dogs, and they usually live longer. Terriers, Maltese, and Shih Tzus are especially prone to periodontal disease. 

What can you do to fix a broken tooth? 
If your dog or cat breaks a tooth, there are two treatments: root canal therapy or extraction. You cannot leave the tooth alone with an exposed nerve. In addition to significant pain, infection will soon develop that can spread to the rest of your pet's body.

Why are full mouth dental radiographs so important?
The American Animal Hospital Association in conjunction with The American Veterinary Dental College recommends full mouth intraoral radiographs as part of a complete anesthetic oral exam and cleaning. “In one published report, intraoral radiography revealed clinically important pathology (changes) in 27.8% of dogs and 41.7% of cats when no abnormal findings were noted on the initial exam.” (2013 AAHA Dental Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats)

Why should I brush my dog's or cat's teeth? 
Daily removal of plaque is the key to an oral hygiene program. Unless your pet's teeth are brushed daily, plaque, which is an accumulation of bacteria, will build up at the gum line. Eventually calculus forms, further irritating the gums, and then infection progresses to loosen and destroy the attachment of the tooth. In addition to loose teeth, infection under the gumline can spread to the liver, kidneys, and heart. 

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