Getting to the root of dental problems in pets

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Dental problems in pets are very common and also very worrying as they play an important role in the overall health well-being of our pets. Besides ensuring captivating smiles for the family photo album, upholding dental health is crucial for all family members and pets are no exception.

The question is, can dental problems cause overall illness? And how do we know if our pets have advanced dental disease that requires a dental procedure to fix the problem?

Don’t fret! Here’s all the information that you need to know about dental procedures in pets and why they’re important:

What is dental disease in pets?

Dental disease, also known as periodontal disease, is a painful condition that occurs when bacteria, plaque and tartar build up on teeth. It also affects about 80% of all pets at some time in their life.

Without intervention to control or eliminate dental disease, it tends to get worse, often times progressing beyond the gum line and invading the subgingival space. As dental disease progresses, bacterial growth causes tissue destruction and leaves teeth without support.

As dental disease is left untreated, deep infections can occur at the roots of the teeth and jawbone. Bacteria may then enter your pet’s bloodstream. This bacterial dissemination throughout the body can affect other organs, such as the kidneys, liver, and heart.

What are the signs of dental problems in pets? 

At 3 years of age, the vast majority of cats and dogs already show some sign of dental disease, such as:

  • Bad breath
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Bleeding gums
  • Painful gums
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Biting/grinding
  • Tooth discoloration
  • Fractured or broken teeth
  • Changes in saliva odor and color
  • Visible dental plaque
  • Tooth loss

In addition to these signs, it’s also important to check if any baby teeth remain past their time. As permanent teeth erupt, baby teeth left behind need to be extracted. Otherwise, permanent teeth will have problems erupting and teeth may end up edged together which can lead to increased bacterial plaque.

How can dental disease be prevented?

Preventing dental disease in our pets is a battle fought on two fronts – daily home care and regular check-ups.

Daily home care includes daily brushing with proper toothpaste (never use human toothpastes, because they normally contain xylitol, which is toxic for pets), oral hygiene snacks, specific petfood for oral health and/or the use of dental products (such as supplements, oral elixirs or sprays).

Check-ups require regular visits to the veterinarian, where dental disease can be detected early on. Your veterinarian is the only one that can suggest medication or dental procedures that will ensure your pet’s oral health.

How to evaluate the presence of dental disease?

Dental checkups should be done at least once a year, at preventive care appointments, such as vaccination and/or deworming.

In addition to this control, we should also regularly examine our pets’ teeth and gums, at home:

  1. Look out for any new behaviors, such as pawing at the face or reduced appetite;
  2. Examine the muzzle (check for any unusual swelling);
  3. Smell the breath for any foul or unusual smells;
  4. Open the mouth, carefully pulling the lips upwards, to look at the teeth and gums and look for signs such as bleeding, pain, wobbling teeth, red or retracted gums and plaque;
  5. Act, in case of any signs of dental disease – contact your veterinarian and schedule a dental check-up as soon as possible!

What to expect if your pet needs a dental procedure?

Dental procedures are very similar to those practiced in human dentistry, consisting in the removal of plaque and tartar deposits with an ultrassonic scaler. Tooth extraction may also be necessary in some cases.

Firstly, the ultrasound device is used to remove the main part of plaque and tartar. Next, any traces of plaque and tartar that may still exist near and below the gum line are removed by scraping. Finally, all teeth are polished to leave a smooth surface because any textured areas are potential zones for further bacterial plaque to settle.

The whole procedure is relatively simple, but in order to keep our pets safe and stress-free, it has to be performed under general anesthesia.

Of course this factor creates some anxiety in the vast majority of pet parents, but there is nothing to fear! Before dental procedures, blood tests are done to ensure that there is no underlying disease. Also, oral radiographs are made to confirm the diagnosis and check the roots. Many teeth, even though they seem normal on visual examination, will show alterations on an oral x-ray.

Dental disease is one of the main causes of significant chronic pain in our pets. However, due to animals’ ability to mask their symptoms, dental disease can go unnoticed for a long time.

Without proper care and regular veterinary check-ups, dental disease can cause considerable suffering to our pets, until the disease is finally identified and treated.

As always, prevention is key, but if they do end up needing a dental procedure, you can be sure it will change your pet’s life. Going through life pain-free with a healthy oral cavity is not only going to give you reasons to smile, it will help your pet’s overall health.

To make sure you remember your pet’s dental check-ups and procedures, check out the Petable app:

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