Pet Talk: Take charge of your pet’s dental care |

Pet Talk: Take charge of your pet’s dental care

Sheila Fitzpatrick
On pets

It’s February and the weather is cold outside, and of course, you may be thinking more about how you will get to work or school today rather than the condition of your pet’s teeth. But little did you know but February is National Pet Dental Health Month.

At the beginning of each year, we are all thinking of our own medical and dental appointments, but it is easy to forget that our pets need routine dental care as well!

Like humans, our pets are prone to many types of dental disease, and oftentimes, until clinical signs emerge, such as a pet has stopped eating, is salivating heavily, or has a strong mouth odor, the pet may go extended periods of time in pain and have deep-seated infection in the mouth without the owner’s knowledge. The oral cavity of a pet has an active blood supply which quickly allows dangerous bacteria to spread to internal organs resulting in systemic disease processes.

As veterinarians, it is our job to increase pet owner awareness of types and recognition of dental issues in pets and encourage routine oral examinations.

There are many types of “pathology” that can be detected during your pet’s annual dental examination. Types of pathology include:

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Painful periodontal disease: Did you know that because pets don’t routinely “brush” their teeth, that periodontal disease sets in as early as three years of age in pets?

When bacteria in the mouth combine with bacteria from food and attach to the tooth as plaque, the plaque and “calculus” begin to grow under the gum line and cause damage to the supporting structures of the tooth. It can eventually result in subgingival infections and tooth loss. 

Broken, cracked or diseased teeth: Fractured teeth can be full thickness cuts through the center of the tooth, or even just damage to the enamel of the tooth. Unfortunately, any damage to the tooth results in making the underlying root vulnerable to infection and eventual pain and loss of the neighboring bone. With new advances in dental diagnostics for pets, these broken teeth no longer go undetected and, if caught early, can be repaired.

Abscessed teeth: These teeth will often be discovered because they are discolored, or have mobility. These teeth can be very painful for your pet and should be removed surgically.

Resorptive lesions: These are the more common pathology found on dental examinations of cats. These are holes that often develop at the gumline and result in subgingival infections, pain and eventual loss of the tooth in cats. Just by merely touching the gum of a cat with a resorptive lesion, the owner can quickly detect the pet is in significant pain.

Oral Cancers: These cancers, as well as benign tumors, are also discovered during dental examinations. Early detection and staging of these tumors give a better chance of giving your pet a more positive outcome.

Your veterinarian can carefully chart any problem areas found in your pet’s mouth and may suggest a dental prophy cleaning. During the cleaning, a more in-depth examination can be made while your pet is carefully sedated to assure no dangerous bacteria or plaque particles enter the respiratory system. It is during this more in-depth exam that we are able to continue to evaluate further for pockets indicating the degree of periodontal disease, mobility, resorptive lesions, fractured teeth, and oral cancers.

In recent years, veterinary medicine has followed it’s human counterpart with dental radiography. It is impossible, as we all know, to assess disease below the gumline in pets with just the human eye. Dental radiography has helped discover innumerable types of pathology in pet’s mouths that would otherwise have gone undetected.

So this February, take charge of your pet’s dental care. Get an appointment with your regular veterinarian and start your pet’s year out being proactive about dental health.

Sheila Fitzpatrick is a doctor of veterinary medicine with Mountain Animal Hospital Center & Mobile Vet.

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