Pet Dental Health: The Basics of Veterinary Dentistry

For many veterinarians, pet dental health is often included as part of routine exams and prophylaxis. Unfortunately, it is often less prioritized compared to urgent medical issues. Nevertheless, veterinary dentistry is of utmost importance in guaranteeing pet dental health and the pet’s general welfare. The goal is not only shiny teeth and fresh breath. It is about reducing the pet’s discomfort, preserving overall health, and improving quality of life. 

Recommended course: Veterinary Dentistry: Basic Practical Guidebook of a Thorough Oral Examination 

Connecting the dots: Pet dental health affects the entire body 

Neglecting pet dental health might result in significant and wide-ranging repercussions. Periodontal disease, an untreated chronic inflammatory disorder that affects the gums and underlying tissues, is the most common dental problem in pets.  

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) estimates that about 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have some form of dental disease by the age of 3. Bacteria within the inflammation can lead to their entry into the bloodstream, harming major organs such as the heart, liver, and kidneys. Furthermore, dental pain can result in changes in behavior, poor appetite, and eating difficulty, which can affect nutrition and overall well-being. 

Early intervention: Proactive veterinary dentistry 

According to the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), proactive dental care can be significantly cheaper than treating advanced dental disease. Engaging in proactive dental care offers significant advantages. Regular oral examinations enable timely identification and action, thereby averting discomfort, infection, and even systemic problems. 

Professional cleanings effectively eliminate plaque and tartar, which serve as a fertile environment for pathogenic bacteria to thrive. Moreover, advanced techniques such as extractions, root canals, and orthodontics can effectively tackle complex dental problems, restoring pet dental health and function. 

Investing in pet dental health 

Advocating for veterinary dentistry encompasses more than simply the welfare of individual animals. It’s also about proper ownership of pets and public health. Providing pet owners with knowledge about the significance of oral hygiene enables them to make well-informed choices that benefit their pets. It may also minimize future healthcare needs. Veterinarians play a crucial role in promoting responsible pet ownership and maintaining the well-being of animals by advocating for and offering comprehensive dental services. 

Common pet dental health problems 

It is essential to identify and deal promptly with common dental issues to ensure pet’s good health. Here are several common issues: 

Canine dental problems 

  • Periodontal disease affects about 80% of dogs by the age of three. Be vigilant for halitosis, inflamed gums, tooth mobility, and an impaired ability to chew. Prompt action involving dental cleanings and the administration of antibiotics is key. 
  • Tooth fractures, which are frequently observed in energetic young dogs, can lead to discomfort, infection, and exposure of dental pulp. Symptoms include bleeding, mouth-pawing, and difficulty chewing. Timely intervention through procedures including extraction, root canal therapy, or crown implantation is vital. 
  • Malocclusions, which refer to the misalignment of teeth or jaws, can result in dental trauma, an improper bite, and difficulty eating. Brachycephalic breeds have a higher susceptibility to this condition. 
  • Gingivitis is the initial phase of gum inflammation. This is characterized by the presence of redness and bleeding in the gums. Without treatment, it can progress to periodontal disease.  

Feline dental issues 

  • Stomatitis is a painful condition characterized by inflammation of the oral mucosa. Affected cats exhibit excessive salivation, difficulty eating, and a loss of body weight. Viral infections are frequently the culprits. Treatment entails the use of anti-inflammatory drugs, immunosuppressive agents, and pain management. 
  • Tooth resorption is a complex, idiopathic disorder that leads to the wearing away of feline teeth. Symptoms include excessive salivation, challenges in consuming food, and puffiness of the face. Possible treatment modalities include extraction, root canal therapy, or pain management. 
  • Although less prevalent among felines, periodontal disease nonetheless impacts a significant number of cats. Prominent signs include halitosis, inflamed gums, and impaired mastication.  
  • Feline Gingivitis-Stomatitis Complex involves inflammation of the gums and mouth. It typically requires intensive treatment such as tooth removal and immunosuppressive treatments. 

Examining and diagnosing dental issues in pets 

Regular dental checkups serve as the foundation of preventive healthcare. They can frequently uncover concealed issues before they worsen. A regular dental check can help avoid discomfort, illness, and expensive veterinary treatments in the future. A thorough dental examination goes beyond a quick glance and involves: 

  • Visual inspection: A veterinarian uses an adequate light source and an oral speculum to evaluate the condition of teeth, gums, tongue, oral mucosa, and adjacent tissues. They’re looking for abnormalities such as changes in color, swelling, and tooth fractures. 
  • Palpation: Gently palpating the oral cavity and lymph nodes helps detect masses, pain points, and jaw abnormalities. 
  • Percussion: Tapping teeth with a dental instrument reveals potential fractures, abscesses, or root canal issues. Dull sounds, flinching, or vocalizations are telltale signs. 
  • Probing: Measuring the depth of the periodontal pocket (space between gum and tooth) with a periodontal probe identifies gum inflammation and potential bone loss. 

Beyond the surface: advanced veterinary diagnostics 

While the examination sheds light on surface issues, deeper problems often lurk beneath the gums. Advanced tools are necessary for a proper diagnosis. These include the following: 

  • Dental radiographs: X-rays reveal unerupted teeth, root abscesses, internal fractures, and bone loss. 
  • Oral cytology: Microscopic examination of cells collected from suspicious lesions aid in diagnosing infections, inflammation, and even tumors. 
  • Biopsies: For definitive diagnosis, a pathologist may collect and analyze tissue samples to identify abnormal cell types and rule out malignancy. 

Essential dental procedures and treatments: Scaling and polishing 

The power of prevention can’t be overemphasized. The process of scaling and polishing eliminates the accumulation of plaque and tartar, which serves as a fertile environment for pathogenic bacteria. Ultrasonic scalers and polishers are used to ensure thorough cleaning of gums and teeth, resulting in healthy gums and teeth. 

Tooth extraction and root canals

Extraction provides relief for teeth that are beyond repair or causing pain. Precise surgical procedures minimize tissue harm and promote healing. The level of complexity determines whether local, regional, or general anesthetic is used for a painless experience during procedures. 

When there is a risk of infection in the pulp cavity, but the tooth is worth preserving, a root canal is often the primary procedure to address the problem. The process involves the extraction of infected pulp, thorough cleaning and disinfection of the canal, and subsequent sealing of the opening. This procedure aims to preserve the tooth and prevent any additional issues. Anesthesia and meticulous technique are crucial for success. 

Correcting malocclusion and fracture repair 

Dental misalignment can result in dental injuries, an incorrect bite, and challenges while eating. Orthodontic therapies such as braces or spacers, or surgical procedures like crown-banding or jaw reshaping, can correct these problems, restoring functionality and increasing the animal’s comfort. 

Various treatments are necessary to address tooth fractures caused by trauma or wear and tear. Small fractures may require bonding or composite fillings, whereas bigger fractures may necessitate root canals or extractions. Effective anesthesia and appropriate stabilization practices are necessary for achieving successful outcomes. 

Oral tumors and pain management 

Oral tumors, although less prevalent, require immediate detection and treatment. The primary objective of surgical excision with margins, occasionally accompanied by radiation or chemotherapy, is to achieve full eradication of the affected area and improve life expectancy. Pain management plays a vital role throughout the process. 

During these procedures, veterinarian professionals should always prioritize good pain management. Customized analgesia and anesthetic options guarantee the animal’s comfort and reduce stress. Monitoring vital body functions and administering post-operative pain relief is also essential. 

Keep in mind that every technique has its own subtle distinctions and specific indications. Utilizing veterinary dentistry resources and engaging in ongoing education can help you select the best approach for each patient. 

Preventative care for pet dental health 

Implementing preventative dental care measures ensures oral health preservation of pets. This is vital in preventing potential struggles with pain and discomfort, illness, and costly treatments. 

Key components of a strong dental defense system 

Home dental care 

Regular brushing using toothpaste specifically designed for pets and using suitable chew toys can help prevent the accumulation of plaque and tartar. Provide pet owners with guidance on selecting effective dental products, employing correct brushing techniques, and integrating dental chews into their pet’s regimen. 

Professional cleaning 

Under anesthesia, professional cleanings effectively eliminate tartar accumulation in hard-to-reach areas and provide a comprehensive oral examination. Frequent dental cleanings, ideally every 6-12 months, serve as a protective barrier against potential future problems. 

Dietary modifications 

A pet’s diet has a direct influence on the condition of their oral health. Encourage clients to choose kibble formulated for oral health, as it facilitates mechanical cleaning while pets eat. Discuss the potential benefits of dental diets for pets with specific needs and how to avoid sticky treats and sugary foods that fuel bacterial growth. 

Educating pet owners on proper pet dental care 

Employ pet owner education materials such as handouts, posters, and even social media posts to: 

  • Emphasize the significance of oral hygiene for pets and the possible ramifications of disregarding it. 
  • Showcase correct tooth brushing methods and offer suggestions for suitable products. 
  • Highlight the significance of professional cleanings and dietary factors. 
  • Promote regular oral examinations and immediate reporting of any issues. 

Key takeaways: Promoting pet dental health and wellness 

  • Oral health is essential for the general well-being of animals since it affects their overall health, pain thresholds, and quality of life. 
  • Understanding the anatomy and physiology of various species enables veterinarians to provide the best possible dental treatment. 
  • It is essential to identify common dental issues and perform comprehensive examinations for prompt diagnosis and intervention. 
  • Proficiently executing necessary protocols and giving priority to pain management guarantees optimal patient comfort and favorable results. 
  • The cornerstone of pet dental health is proactive dental care, which encompasses home care, professional cleanings, and dietary considerations.