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Pet Dental Care: The Basics

by Dr. Katie Hogan, DVM

We are wrapping up February, which is National Pet Dental Health Month. This Month is sponsored by the AVMA (the American Veterinary Medical Association) as a reminder that pet dental health is important to the whole-body wellness or your furry friends.

Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com

Most dog owners know that dogs and cats can get “bad teeth,” but many are in denial about actually having it. It is estimated that 80% of dogs and 70% of cats over the age of 3 years old already have periodontal disease (disease that affects the teeth, gums, and other structures below the gum line). That means that even if you think your pet’s teeth look fine, there is still a good chance that they may need a Veterinarian to address their dental health!

Why is Pet Dental Health Important?

Just like humans, pets teeth have important layers- the enamel, the dentin, and the pulp. Also like humans, pets can wear down the enamel on their teeth, which can damage the teeth, leading to exposure of the inner layers, and ultimately cause pain and infection. Unlike humans (well, unlike most humans), pets generally chew on toys and don’t brush their teeth twice daily, which accelerates the wear and tear on their pearly whites. This wear and tear can progress to cause significant discomfort and eventually result in damage to the heart and kidneys.

The mouth is a very vascular organ with many blood vessels in it. Because of this, bacteria that build up on, around and between the teeth can easily penetrate the gumline. This bacteria can then travel to other very vascular organs- such as the heart and kidneys- and cause disease such as bacterial endocarditis.

The most important reason to pay attention to your pet’s dental health is to keep your pet out of pain and discomfort. Doing annual or semi-annual dental cleanings on your healthy dogs and cats prevents problems from becoming unmanageable as they age. Much like changing the oil in your car saves you from catastrophic engine failure, routine dental health checkups and prophylactic dental cleanings provide some insurance against major problems (such as infection or abscesses) coming on suddenly. It is much easier on your pet, your vet, and your wallet to perform maintenance on the teeth instead of doing costly repairs and surgeries when severe problems develop due to negligence with preventative care.

I have seen many elderly pets who are doing poorly because they have bad teeth and so cannot eat well. When this happens, they almost always need sedation as soon as possible to remove the majority of their teeth and help them eat again. Emergency dental surgery could have been avoided had they had routine dental care as a younger dog or cat.

Is Anesthesia for Dental Cleanings Safe?

The number one objection that I get from owners regarding annual dental cleanings is that they are afraid of their pet going under anesthesia. This is a valid concern—anesthesia in all aspects of medicine is never completely risk-free; however, it is much safer to sedate a healthy dog or cat with no health problems for a routine (and expedient) dental cleaning than it is to sedate an elderly dog for a long period of time to perform extensive oral surgery. In most cases, the benefits of prophylactic dental care greatly outweigh the risk. Ask your veterinarian if you have questions related to the safety of anesthesia and the risks involved with dentistry.

If your dog is elderly and in need of some major repair work, take heart! Extra precautions, including preoperative bloodwork and radiographs of your pet’s major organs, may be pursued to ensure that there are no underlying medical conditions that would make anesthesia a bad idea for your beloved pet. Ask your vet directly about your concerns about the anesthetic risk and if there are any other diagnostics she recommends before proceeding to surgery. This will open up a discussion about the pros and cons of dental surgery in light or your pet’s unique situation. In most cases the benefits of dental surgery outweigh the risk, especially if your pet is already in pain or discomfort.

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image from Binglevet.com

Thanks for reading about the importance of dental care for your pet! If you’d like more information, please see this blog post to learn about 5 ways you can help your pet’s dental health.

Photo by Amal Santhosh on Pexels.com

Have you ever had a pet undergo dental cleaning or surgery? Was it for routine maintenance or did your pet have a problem? What did you learn about pet dental care from that experience? Tell us by commenting below! 

Dr. Katie Hogan is a full-time veterinarian at Grady Veterinary Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio. She works with dogs, cats, and exotic companion animals and is dedicated to furthering the human-animal bond. In her free time, she creates online content for her blog, KatieHoganDVM.com, which is dedicated to helping pets, pet parents, and veterinarians live the best lives imaginable.

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