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February is Pet Dental Month!
Dental health is a very important part of your pet's overall health. Dental problems, when untreated, can cause other health problems and discomfort or outright pain for your pet.
A dental exam is an important part of your pet's annual physical check up. Your pet's teeth should also be checked any time you notice the following:
1. Your pet has bad breath - other diseases than dental disease can cause bad breath as well, e.g. kidney disease, gastrointestinal disease, diabetes.
2. One or more teeth seem to be broken, loose, or discolored or covered in tartar.
3. You find extra teeth in your pet's mouth, your pet has not lost of all his/her baby teeth, or teeth seem to be missing altogether.
4. Your pet seems to be chewing more on one side or is drooling (drooling can be a sign of nausea as well).
5. Chewing seems painful and/or food is being dropped out of the mouth.
6. Your pet does not want you to touch the area around the mouth anymore.
7. You notice a swelling in the jaw areas or underneath the eye.
8. Your pet is bleeding from his/her mouth.
9. Your pet's appetite is decreased, or he/she is refusing to eat.
Periodontal disease is common in pets, especially in small breed dogs - some show dental disease as early as 2 years of age. Early treatment is advised since advanced periodontal disease can affect your pet's overall health due the constant showering of bacteria into the bloodstream. Besides having your pet deal with an ongoing chronic infection (the mouth is a very dirty environment), advanced disease also causes discomfort and pain.
Dental disease starts with plaque that turns into the hard tartar or calculus we see on our pets' teeth. Tartar below the gumline can easily be dealt with, but the the non-visible tartar under the gums will cause the infection, gum recession, and in later stages bone loss in the jaw bones.
As per the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC), dentistry requires anesthesia. We cannot tell our pets to hold still to scale under the gumline. They will not accept probing around the teeth with a sharp instrument while awake. A cleaning without an anesthetic is purely cosmetic. A heavily sedated pet can still move when stimulated and painful. We also want a pet to be intubated for a dental cleaning to protect the airways from the debris and bacteria that get mobilized with the scaling and polishing of the teeth. This can be done only with general anesthesia. Without the protection of an endotracheal tube, inhalation of the debris and the bacteria into the lungs can lead to aspiration pneumonia. More information on this topic can be found "Dental Scaling Without Anesthesia" by the American Veterinary Dental College. This website also provides a wealth of further information on dentistry in pets.