How to keep your pet’s pearly whites healthy | Ask Dr. Kait | Pets

In my last column, “Dental health is more than just bad breath,” I covered things you can do at home to protect your pet’s smile. To follow up, I will cover veterinary dental cleanings so pet owners have a more thorough understanding of their pet’s dental health needs from puppy to senior.

Your pet should have its first dental exam at one year of age. The veterinarian will look for retained deciduous (baby) teeth which can cause dental issues as your pet ages. When baby teeth do not fall out, it causes overcrowding since baby teeth and adult teeth remain in the mouth together. This overcrowding can even result in a second row of teeth, appearing sort of like a shark’s mouth. The extra teeth are notorious for impaction of food and debris and give a perfect place for tartar and plaque to build up. If your puppy has retained baby teeth, a grade 1 dental cleaning will likely be recommended.

If your pet was a grade 1, you may notice some discoloration of your pet’s teeth at the gum line. This means that your pet has gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and there is plaque and tartar that needs to be removed. Your pet will not need extractions, except for any retained baby teeth. This cleaning will be similar to a cleaning you receive at the dentist. Recovery is very simple in a grade 1. Soft food is recommended for a few days and medications may or may not be needed. Once any retained baby teeth are removed, your pet should only need at home dental care for about two years, unless an unexpected infection or tooth injury occurs.

Grade 2 means that there is moderate periodontitis, which is a serious gum infection that damages gums and can damage bone if left untreated. Pet owners may notice significant tartar and plaque buildup, some damaged or loose adult teeth and bad breath. In a grade two dental, a few extractions may be needed. The teeth are scaled, cleaned, and polished. Dental sealants are recommended to prevent bacterial growth along the gumline. This helps to extend the life of the dental procedure by retarding bacterial growth in the area where the gum meets the tooth. Owners should be aware that the pet will have sutures where extractions were done, so soft foods for ten days will be needed. Pain medications and antibiotics will be needed.

Grade 3 is where things get more serious. At a grade three there is moderate periodontal disease. This means an infection causing gum recession allowing for bacterial growth which can degrade the jawbone and enter the bloodstream. Owners may notice very bad breath, gum inflammation sometimes accompanied by bleeding, cracked or loose teeth, and an aversion to eating hard foods. In a grade 3 dental cleaning there is significant plaque causing gum inflammation, multiple loose and or damaged teeth and multiple extractions are needed. Dental sealants are highly recommended at this stage of dental disease to discourage bacterial growth. Recovery for a grade 3 will take a bit longer. It is like a human having teeth extracted in an oral surgery. Your pet will need to eat soft food for a ten days or longer. Pain meds and antibiotics will also be needed.

If your pet is a Grade 4, there are serious concerns. This stage is advanced periodontal disease, which means we are in the final stage of dental disease. This means there are teeth infected to the point swollen gums often oozing pus, possible dental abscesses, bleeding gums, often bone loss, and bacteria entering the blood stream. This can lead to kidney or liver issues and can even do damage to the heart structures. Owners will notice extremely foul breath, drooling, pawing at the mouth, and even a refusal to eat. Pets with a Grade 4 dental will have numerous teeth removed or sometimes, even full mouth extraction. Dental sealants may or may not be recommended, depending on the number of teeth that remain. They may need canned food for life. Antibiotics and pain meds will be needed. Additionally, full diagnostic bloodwork should be run to look for other health complications that can occur with this stage of dental disease.

Now that you know the basics of dental disease, there are a few things you should know before you schedule your pet’s dental. According to the American Veterinary Dental College, pet dental cleaning should be done under general anesthesia. This is because general anesthesia allows the veterinary dental team to thoroughly exam all of the teeth and surrounding gums. Sadly, in our area, there are reports of low-cost dental cleanings being done while pets are awake. Be sure to research the techniques the veterinary practice uses. Dental procedures using restraint rather than anesthesia are dangerous to both provider and the pet. Dental tools and pet’s teeth are both very sharp and any movement can result in serious injury to pet and provider.

When your pet arrives for its dental procedure, it will be placed under general anesthesia. The veterinary dental staff will then begin work. Usually an RVT (Registered Veterinary Technician) works along with the veterinarian to inspect, scale, extract, and then clean and polish, the teeth. Dental x-rays should be taken on any teeth that are broken or cracked to evaluate for extractions. Once removed, it should be X-rayed again to assure that the entire root has been successfully removed. Be sure to inquire if your veterinarian does dental X-rays during surgery.

Most pets will have some form of dental disease by the age of three, so if you haven’t had your pet’s teeth checked, do so right away. Pet owners should do what they can at home to establish good oral health habits for their pets and have veterinary dental cleanings every other year or sooner if there is an infection or a dental injury. As you can see, optimal dental health is a partnership between owners and veterinarian. This will ensure your pet has the best odds of keeping their pearly whites healthy and their breath fresh!

Dr. Kaitlen Lawton-Betchel is an alumni of West Hills College and Fresno Pacific University, she graduated from Midwestern University in Arizona with her doctorate of veterinary medicine and her business certificate. Dr. Kait currently practices out of Karing for Kreatures Veterinary Hospital, also known as K+K in Lemoore.

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