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Annual dental exams and cleanings are recommended to protect your pet from many health problems and help them maintain a healthy and clean mouth.
Here at TDAC we firmly believe that good dental health is a critical component of your pet's overall health. Dental disease can have impacts on all other body systems, including heart disease, diabetes regulation, joint disease, and kidney disease. You can help your pet have good oral health from the day you bring them home. Start by gently training your puppy or kitten to allow us to look at their mouth by lifting their lips. Over time you can incorporate tooth brushing into your daily routine with your pet. There are other home care options as well including dental chews, oral rinses, and special dental diets.
But just like humans, our pets will need professional dental cleanings. Especially when tartar is visibly present on the teeth, brushing at home is not enough and may become painful as teeth become diseased. Some veterinary dental specialists recommend yearly cleanings for large dogs, and twice yearly cleanings for small dogs who build up tartar more quickly. We encourage dental cleanings early in dental disease, when tartar is just starting to accumulate on the teeth. At this point cleanings are truly preventing disease: removing tartar and plaque and restoring the teeth to normal health. In later disease, when severe calculus has built up, there is inflammation of the gums (gingivitis), bone loss around the teeth, and loose or abscessed teeth, we cannot fully reverse the dental disease and may need to extract teeth to keep your pet healthy and pain free.
In order to serve your pet we offer routine dental cleanings as well as more advanced oral surgery including dental extractions and biopsies of abnormal tissue. All of our dental services are performed under general anesthesia to allow a complete oral assessment, hand and ultrasonic scaling both above and below the gum line, digital radiographs (x-rays), tooth polishing, fluoride treatment, and dental extractions if needed. Our dental package includes pre-operative blood work to screen for hidden organ abnormalities, IV fluids during the procedure, anesthesia monitoring, and the full dental cleaning and exam. Oral surgery (extractions), x-rays, and pain medications carry additional fees. Plan on dropping your pet off the morning of their procedure and picking them up later that afternoon, awake, comfortable, and ready to go!
Here at TDAC we offer digital dental radiographs (x-rays) to better assess your pet's teeth. We encourage full mouth radiographs at the first dental cleaning and whenever significant disease is present. We also take radiographs of each tooth we extract, both before and after extraction to confirm the presence of disease and complete extraction of the roots. Doing x-rays may mean the difference between extracting a tooth or leaving it in, as well as finding hidden disease that may otherwise be causing pain for your pet.
Why do we need x-rays? 70% of the tooth is actually below the surface of the gum line. This is the classic tip of the iceberg situation where just looking at the teeth and probing the gums cannot fully assess the extent of dental disease. X-rays of teeth let us see bone loss around the teeth, the formation of abscesses around the tooth roots, broken roots, root resorption, and jaw fractures. It also lets us find abnormalities that may impact our ability to extract teeth safely including curved root tips or even extra roots.
Dental disease happens to everyone. In humans, we brush our teeth at least twice daily and should still get our teeth cleaned by our dentists every 6-12 months. Dogs don't brush their teeth, and even if you diligently brush your dog or cat's teeth twice daily they will still need regular dental cleanings to prevent advancing disease from developing.
The story of dental disease starts with bacteria. Bacteria colonize the mouth and can stick to food residue on the teeth. As they grow on the teeth they can develop a sticky biofilm called plaque- this creates an even more hospitable environment for the bacteria that is hard to remove. Plaque is what we are trying to eliminate through brushing.
Once plaque has built up, a brown layer of calculus begins to form. This is a mineral matrix that is growing on the plaque biofilm laid down by those bacteria. Once this forms, brushing is no longer going to be effective. A professional dental cleaning is now needed to take off the calculus and restore the teeth to a healthy and clean state. The more calculus builds up, the more inflamed the surrounding gums become. Inflammation exposes blood vessels that allow bacteria from the teeth to enter the blood stream and seed other areas of the body like the kidneys and the heart. As the dental disease progresses, bone begins to be eaten away around the teeth and they can become loose. It is helpful for us to divide these stages into different "grades" of dental disease to help us decide what level of intervention we need to pursue.
Grade I dental disease is when the brown layer of calculus just starts to form. The gums are still healthy and no teeth should need to be extracted at this stage. In an ideal world, we would do all of our dental cleanings at this stage and maintain it as often as needed to keep the teeth strong and healthy for an animal's entire life.
Grade II dental disease is slightly more severe than Grade I. A heavier layer of calculus has formed and there is obvious gingivitis. There is minimal bone loss at this stage and no gum recession. This disease is still reversible and no extractions should be needed unless there are fractured teeth or we find compromised roots on x-rays.
Grade III dental disease is where we are no longer in the "disease prevention" mode and are moving into "disease treatment" with our dental cleanings. These teeth have heavy calculus build up, severe gingivitis, and obvious gum recession. On x-rays we would be seeing irreversible bone loss around some teeth. Animals with Grade III dental disease are very likely to need one or more extractions and their dental cleanings will be more extensive than those needed for Grades I and II.
Grade IV dental disease is the most severe level of dental disease. Looking in these mouths you almost see more tartar than teeth. Not only will these patients need many extractions, but some teeth may be falling out on their own. These are painful, diseased mouths and need attention sooner rather than later. It is amazing how much better these patients feel after their dental disease is resolved! And it is also important to follow up at least yearly with Grade I or II cleanings to maintain their remaining teeth and keep them from reaching this severe stage of dental disease again.