What is dental disease? How is it caused?

Periodontal disease is caused by inflammation and/or infection of the gums surrounding the teeth. It results from the daily build-up of bacterial plaque and tartar on the surface of the pet’s teeth. If this bacteria is not thoroughly cleaned, it leads to inflammation of the gums, which in turn causes bone loss, infection, pain, and eventual tooth loss. Even worse, the bacteria from the tartar build-up can eventually seep into the rest of the body causing infections in the heart, liver, or kidneys.

What are the signs of dental disease? How do I know if my pet is in pain due to dental disease?

Initially, signs of periodontal disease can be very subtle and you may not notice anything except for slightly reddened gums. If the conditions progresses, some warning signs of dental disease are:

  • Bad breath (halitosis). This is the most common issue pet owners bring up when their pet is suffering from dental disease.
  • Issues with picking up food, dropping food, difficulty eating.
  • Making noises when eating, whimpering.
  • Loose, or even missing, teeth.
  • Red, inflamed gums, including bleeding.
  • Chewing with only one side of the mouth.
  • Bumps in the mouth.
  • Blood on chew toys or the food/water bowl.
  • Drooling, saliva may look bloody.
  • The pet tries to avoid head petting or other behavioural changes.
  • Sneezing or nasal discharge.

It is important to note that most pets have some form of dental disease by the time they are 4 years of age, but they will often not show visible signs of pain. This is why regular dental care is so important.

What is the procedure for teeth cleaning?

A dental prophylaxis or cleaning procedure for pets is like a dental hygiene appointment for humans. If evidence of dental disease is found during the veterinarian’s physical exam, they may recommend a full dental prophylaxis to treat the dental disease and restore dental health. Unlike human dental cleanings, pets require general anesthesia to properly and safely clean, scale, and polish the teeth. Therefore, this procedure is scheduled on a separate day, when the pet can be monitored closely the whole day before, during, and after the anesthetic procedure.

Why does my pet need to go under anesthesia for a dental procedure?

Anesthesia allows the pet to be completely still so the veterinarian can perform a meticulous examination of the entire oral cavity, take x-rays, and clean the pet’s teeth thoroughly both above and below the gumline. During this time, your pet’s vital signs are constantly monitored by a dedicated medical team, to ensure they stay safe during anesthesia.

How long does a dental procedure take?

The dental procedure itself can take anywhere from 1 to 4 hours. This depends on how advanced the disease is, the number of x-rays needed, and if tooth extractions are deemed necessary. Additional time is needed to prepare the pet for dental surgery (e.g. pre-anesthetic bloodwork, sedation, IV fluid setup) and post-dental patient monitoring. For this reason, we will ask you to drop your pet off in the morning and pick them up in the late afternoon/early evening.

What are dental x-rays and why are they needed?

Dental radiographs, or x-rays, allow us to visualize the root and internal structure of the tooth. Basically, they help your veterinarian see below the gumline. Often your pet’s teeth appear to be healthy on the outside, but they can have diseased roots, enamel issues, and other complications only detectable with radiographs.

Can my pet eat before dental surgery?

Before a dental procedure, it is recommended that your pet is not given food the night before. Generally, food is withheld 12 hours before the procedure, to help minimize the chances of vomiting while under anesthesia. The medical team will confirm the fasting instructions with you a few days before the procedure.

What are the after-care instructions? How do I feed my pet after dental surgery?

We recommend you talk to your veterinarian about your specific case and your pet’s after-care. But these are some general tips for postoperative home care.

  • Food: You can feed your pet soft food for 2 weeks after the procedure if extractions are performed. You will also want to feed your pet a smaller meal on their first day home as they will be recovering from anesthesia.
  • Medications: If dental extractions are needed, pain medications are prescribed to last for a few days after the procedure.

What can I do to keep my pet’s teeth healthy after the surgery?

The best thing to do is begin/continue oral care, whether it is brushing or other techniques. If teeth were extracted, please wait until the medical team has confirmed the teeth are fully healed at the 2-week mark before initiating a brushing regimen.

How long does it take to recover from dental surgery?

Your pet’s mouth may be mildly uncomfortable for a few days after the procedure, but they should still be willing and able to eat. If any teeth were extracted, you may notice a small amount of bleeding from the gums. We recommend a complimentary post-dental recheck with our RVTs at the 2-week mark to ensure the mouth is fully healed.

Will my pet still be able to eat their regular food if teeth are removed?

Short answer, yes.

In special cases, if your pet has all its teeth removed and it used to eat hard kibble you can either fully switch to soft food (canned food or moist kibble) or do so for some time while transitioning back to their regular food.

How often should my dog/cat have a dental cleaning?

Adult pets should visit the vet at least once a year. During their annual checkup, your veterinarian can check for any signs of dental disease and recommend dental cleaning anywhere from every six months to every two years, depending on your pet’s oral health.

Are there dangers associated with dental surgery?

Dental surgeries are considered major veterinary procedures and are done under general anesthesia. The use of any anesthetic includes the risk of complications, which are dependent on your pet’s age, breed, size, and health status. However, with modern monitoring equipment and anesthetics, we can very much reduce that risk. Anesthetic drugs are carefully chosen based on your pet’s physical characteristics, exam findings and bloodwork. During surgery, your pet’s blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature are continuously monitored. IV fluids are administered during surgery to help to support blood pressure and provide an access point for emergency drugs. Finally, our medical team is RECOVER certified in CPR, in case of the rare chance of complications.

What can I do at home to prevent dental disease? Do pets live longer if you brush their teeth?

Just like in humans, both professional cleanings and home care are key to preventing dental disease. As pet owners, our best course of action is prevention. This approach includes daily oral home care from an early age by brushing, or using other techniques such as dental cleaning treats and chew toys. Brushing every day is key to getting rid of plaque before it mineralizes into tartar.
Being proactive will help our pet’s oral health and reduce the risk of other serious diseases such as heart disease, liver disease or kidney failure, thereby increasing their healthy lifespan.

References

https://cvo.org/About-CVO/News/College-Statement-on-Recent-Court-Decision-on-Use.aspx
https://www.centretownvet.ca/cosmetic-dental-cleaning-vs-cohats/
https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/dental-disease-in-dogs
https://vetmed.illinois.edu/pet_column/pets-dental-disease-prevalent-preventable/
https://www.aaha.org/your-pet/pet-owner-education/aaha-guidelines-for-pet-owners/dental-care/
https://www.reedanimalhospital.com/symptoms-of-periodontal-disease-in-dogs/
https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/cat-care/promoting-wellness/common-cat-dental-problems
https://www.wellpets.com/blog/123-warning-signs-of-oral-pain-in-your-dog#:~:text=Signs%20Your%20Dog%20is%20Experiencing%20Oral%20Pain&text=Drooling,behavior%20or%20displaying%20protective%20behavior
https://www.marvistavet.com/periodontal-disease-and-dental-home-care.pml
https://www.kulshanvet.com/what-to-expect-at-your-pets-teeth-cleaning/
http://animaldentalservices.net/when-does-dr-startup-use-dental-x-ray/
https://www.cuteness.com/blog/content/signs-a-dog-has-a-toothache
https://www.wellpets.com/blog/89-how-to-care-for-your-pet-after-dental-surgery
https://wagwalking.com/sense/can-dogs-live-without-teeth
https://wagwalking.com/wellness/how-often-should-you-get-your-dogs-teeth-cleaned-by-the-vet
https://www.albertaanimalhealthsource.ca/content/buyer-beware-nonprofessional-dental-cleanings
https://www.tampabayvets.net/anesthesia-free-dentals/