Pet dental care | American Veterinary Medical Association

Causes of Pet Dental Problems

Although tooth decay is less common in pets than in humans, they can suffer from many of the same dental problems as humans:

  • Broken teeth and roots
  • periodontal disease
  • Abscessed or infected tooth
  • Cysts or tumors in the mouth
  • Malocclusion, or misalignment of teeth and bite
  • Broken jaw (fracture)
  • Palatal defects (such as cleft palate)

Periodontal disease is the most common dental disease in dogs and cats – by the time your pet is 3 years old, he or she will most likely show some early signs of periodontal disease, and if effective preventive measures are not taken, it will continue to grow as your pet ages. As the gums grow, periodontal disease will worsen. Early detection and treatment are crucial, as advanced periodontal disease can cause serious problems and pain for your pet. Periodontal disease doesn’t just affect your pet’s mouth. Other health problems associated with periodontal disease include changes in the kidneys, liver, and heart muscle.

It starts with plaque, which then hardens into tartar. Tartar above the gum line is usually easy to spot and remove, but plaque and tartar below the gum line can be destructive and introduce infection and damage to the jawbone and the tissues that connect the teeth to the jawbone. Periodontal disease is graded from 0 (normal) to 4 (severe).

Treatment for periodontal disease includes a thorough tooth cleaning and may require X-rays to determine the severity of the disease. Your veterinarian or board-certified veterinary dentist will make recommendations based on your pet's overall health and the health of your pet's teeth and provide you with options to consider.

What is veterinary dentistry?

Veterinary dentistry includes the cleaning, adjustment, filing, extraction or restoration of your pet’s teeth and all other aspects of oral health care. These procedures should be performed by a veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary dentist. Depending on state or provincial regulations, veterinary technicians may perform certain dental procedures under the supervision of a veterinarian.

The process begins with an oral examination of your pet by your veterinarian. X-rays may be needed to evaluate the health of the jaw and tooth roots below the gum line. Since most dental disease occurs below the gum line and you can't see it, a thorough dental cleaning and evaluation is performed under anesthesia. A dental cleaning involves scaling (removing plaque and tartar) and polishing, similar to the process used on your own teeth during a regular dental cleaning.

Why does dentistry require anesthesia?

When you go to the dentist, you know that everything the dentist is doing is to help you and keep your mouth healthy. Your dentist will use techniques to minimize pain and discomfort and will ask you how you feel as you undergo the procedure and do your best to remain still. Your pet does not understand the benefits of dental surgery, and he or she reacts by moving, trying to escape, or even biting.

Anesthesia allows your pet to undergo dental procedures with less stress and pain. Additionally, anesthesia allows for better cleaning because your pet is not moving around or risking injury from the dental equipment. If an X-ray is required, your pet will need to be very still to get a good image, which is not possible without extensive sedation or anesthesia.

While there are always risks with anesthesia, it is now safer than ever and continues to improve so that the risks are very low and far outweigh the benefits. Most pets can go home the same day as surgery, although they may seem a little groggy the rest of the day.

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