Pet Health Part 1: Oral and Dental Care

Written by: Taylor Cox, Veterinary Assistant
Edited by: Dr. Caitlin Amiot, DVM and Deborah Somers, RVT

Each year in February we offer a special deal during a time we lovingly call dental month. We host this promo to encourage clients to schedule dental appointments for their pets. Why do our pets need dental work? What type of dental work should our pets get? What is so special about dental month? Our pets, just like us, have colonies of bacteria and leftover food particles in their mouths at all times. The bacteria and food can build up on the teeth if it is not scrubbed off. While there are many ways of going about cleaning teeth, “surgical” dental procedures are often necessary. Typically, anesthetic dentals are recommended several times throughout a dog or cat’s lifetime. Your veterinarian should discuss the right time to schedule this procedure during your pet’s annual exam.

For the cat and dog owners:

Why do our pets need dental work?

As previously mentioned, bacteria and food particles have a tendency to build up as tartar on the teeth. While sometimes tartar is minimal, there are also many cases where tartar can build up so much that it completely covers the teeth. Animals, just like humans, can also develop gum diseases. Diseases like gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), gingival hyperplasia (overgrowth of the gums), epulis (benign tumors or growths of the gums), stomatitis (extreme inflammation of the gums causing tooth and gum decay), and gingival recession (recession of the gum line which can expose the roots of the teeth).

All of these diseases, as well as fractured teeth, abscessed teeth and resorptive lesions can cause pain that animals often won’t show until the pain becomes unbearable. Often times animals are so motivated by their food that they will ignore pain and eat anyway. Just because our pets aren’t showing symptoms doesn’t mean they aren’t experiencing pain.

What type of dental work should our pets get?

As with any form of health care, some treatments are superior to others. At Lebanon Small Animal Clinic, we have an extensive routine when it comes to dentals. We require full anesthesia, monitoring and intravenous fluid support as it is impossible to do effective dental work without it. Performing dental cleaning without anesthesia can often cause more harm than good as many pets are not very understanding when it comes to putting dental tools in their mouths. After our patient is under anesthesia, we do full mouth X-rays. This is the only way to see the roots of the teeth to make sure they are healthy. (Approximately 75% of the tooth is under the gum line!) Following that, we probe each tooth to measure the depth of separation between the gum and the tooth; indicating whether there are gum or tooth diseases as well. Then the teeth are scaled, polished and sealed to protect them further. Occasionally extractions are required and a local block is administered to reduce pain during and after anesthesia. Extractions can vary in their level of severity so the cost varies as well. Just remember, many clinics do their dental procedures differently so it is important to ask what is included and how everything will be done to make sure you are getting what you pay for, and the best care for your pet.

How can I prevent the need for a dental procedure?

There are many ways to help maintain the health of your pet’s teeth to lengthen the amount of time your pet can go without needing dental work. A highly recommended way to maintain your pet’s teeth is to brush them. It may seems a bit strange but brushing teeth, as with us, is the best way to break down leftover food particles and bacterial build up on the teeth. This greatly reduces tartar build up and increases overall tooth and gum health. Brushing once a day is recommended but if you lead a busy lifestyle and don’t always have time, three times a week is also effective. The important thing to know about brushing your pet’s teeth is not to use human toothpaste. Human toothpaste often contains ingredients like fluoride and sweeteners that are toxic to pets. Humans spit out toothpaste but animals often swallow it so this could cause a problem. Tooth paste is not always necessary, as it is the brushing itself that cleans the teeth. If you would like to use toothpaste, many companies will make toothpaste specially formulated for pets. You can find these at many local clinics, pet stores and pet suppliers. We also stock toothpaste for pets here at LSAC.

Another great way to help pets clean their teeth is to offer chews. It is important to remember that not all chews are created equal and not all chews are meant to clean the teeth. At LSAC we offer Oravet chews for dogs. These chews can be given once a day or once every other day and are designed specifically to reduce tartar build up. Oravet chews are certified by the VOHC which means they have been tested and approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council. There are many other chews that also work well like Greenies and Dentahex chews. Rawhide bones are also good for the teeth but are often not certified by the VOHC. These are all affordable options and great ways to prevent oral disease.

Even with prevention some pets can have dental problems. Certain breeds can be predisposed to different diseases. It is important to keep this in mind as preventative dental care will be especially important. Generally speaking, the better the prevention, the easier the dental will be. Good prevention can help even if your pet is predisposed to oral disease.

What is so special about dental month?

During dental month we offer promo pricing. We take advantage of this month to try to increase awareness about the dental needs of pets. When you or I decide to adopt a pet, dental work does not come to mind but is one of the primary needs of an animal. It is our hope as a clinic that by offering this pricing and increasing awareness that we can help pets feel better, be healthier and help their owners save a little in the process.

For the rabbit, chinchilla and pocket pet owners:

What type of dental work does my pet need?

For small animals and pocket pets, dental heath is just as important! Many small animals like rabbits, rats and chinchillas have continuously growing teeth. It is really important to provide these animals hay and lots of chew toys, specific for your type of pet, so that they can wear down their teeth properly. It is important to have the teeth checked by a veterinarian annually because small pets have molars that are very hard to reach and see. If the veterinarian detects a problem, it is likely that your pet will have to undergo a minor anesthetic procedure to either file down or remove these problem teeth.

Due to the nature of these animals, a dental procedure is much different for small pets. These dentals usually involve a limited anesthetic, allowing the procedure to be very quick, and special attention is given to the problem teeth. If the other teeth look healthy they are left to grow and function normally. This difference means we do not offer promo pricing during dental month for small pets. The good news is that the cost for a dental procedure on a pocket pet is a smaller financial investment than a procedure for a dog or cat. In any case, we hope to still provide excellent service and detailed information to keep owners informed and up to date. Most of all, we want to make sure that all of our pets are healthy and happy.

* If you think that your pet needs a dental check or a dental procedure you can schedule an appointment and find information at the following link:

*For further information you can also visit the American Veterinary Dental College at: American Veterinary Dental College