Under the Gum: behind the scenes of a dental cleaning
In honor of National Pet Dental Health month, we’ll be taking a closer look at your pet’s oral health throughout the month. We talked a little bit about tooth brushing in an earlier blog, so you know how to try to prevent dental problems at home. But if your pet has dental problems that can’t be solved at home, you can expect to hear your veterinarian recommend a thorough dental exam and teeth cleaning.
It isn’t too hard to spot the signs of obvious periodontal disease. Bad breath is one of the biggest complaints about pets that I hear in the office, and is a common sign of dental disease. Other signs include:
- Accumulation of tartar at the gum line
- Loose or broken teeth
- Excess drooling
- Swelling and/or draining tracts on the face
- Discolored (grey) teeth
Here’s what you can expect from a dental procedure. First, you’ll be dropping your cat or dog off for the day, as she will require anesthesia. Unlike humans, who willingly (or not so willingly!) lie still for their dentists and open their mouths on command, our pets are not as cooperative. Anesthesia allows for a thorough dental exam. There is always a risk associated with anesthesia, but your vet will use the safest anesthetic procedures and intra-operative monitoring to ensure the safest experience for your pet.
Once your pet is under anesthesia, her mouth will get a thorough exam. Any pockets between the gums and teeth (a sign of periodontal disease) will be noted, and diseased teeth will be addressed. Oral X-rays will probably be taken to assess the health of the entire tooth, including the roots, since seemingly healthy teeth can sometimes turn out to be diseased. All of your pet’s teeth will be ultrasonically cleaned and polished, and usually some type of fluoride treatment will be used.
Broken or loose teeth, or those that are so diseased that they are beyond hope, will be extracted. If this is the case, it is likely that your pet will be sent home with pain medication for the next couple of days. Your veterinarian will go over discharge instructions, such as feeding guidelines (for example, maybe you will need to feed soft food temporarily) and instructions on when it is ok to start tooth brushing again.
Every once in a while, your veterinarian might come across a problem that is over his head. In this case, your pet will likely be referred to a veterinary dentist for the best care possible.
Poor dental health contributes to overall poor health. I cannot count the number of times that I have had clients tell me that after a thorough dental procedure, their pet acts years younger. Dental pain is sometimes very hard to detect, and chronic pain can cause our pets to withdraw. In addition, dental disease contributes to systemic disease, with the potential for damaging the kidneys and heart. Veterinary pet insurance can help you deal with the costs to manage your pet's care should they develop problems as a result of poor dental health, but the best thing to do would be to prevent those problems from ever occurring in the first place!
Do your pet a favor this February – flip up her lip and take a peek at those chompers. If you see (or smell) anything alarming, it’s time to schedule a visit to your vet. It may be time for a dental cleaning!