What to Expect if Your Pet Needs Dental Care

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Ulceration on top of second
premolar due to periodontal

Root canals, dental x-rays, orthodontics, crowns, caps, implants, and periodontal surgery for pets? You must be kidding? Not at all. Dental procedures are routinely performed in veterinary practices daily. How does a loving pet owner know if dental care is needed, and where can a pet owner go for advanced dental care?

Examination is the key to diagnosis, and helps determine the type of treatment needed. You need to know what to look for. A pet owner can help by examining their pet's teeth and oral cavity, at least monthly. First, smell your dog or cat's breath. If you sense a disagreeable odor, gum disease may present. Periodontal disease is the most common ailment of small animals. Gum problems begin when bacteria accumulate at the gumline around the tooth. Unless brushed away daily, these bacteria can destroy tooth supporting bone, cause bleeding, and if untreated, cause tooth loss. Usually the first sign is bad breath. Other signs you may notice are red swollen gums, tartar (a yellow or brown accumulation on the tooth surface), or loose teeth.

Fractured upper fourth premolar tooth
with pulpal exposure

When examining your pet's mouth, look for chips or fractures on the tooth's surface. Contrary to their popularity, chewing on cow hoofs, rocks, bones or other hard materials, may break teeth. Many times, small pieces of enamel are chipped off, which usually causes no harm. Deeper chips into the dentin layer may cause sensitivity to your pet, if not treated. If the fracture is deeper, you may notice a red, brown, or black spot in the middle of the tooth's surface. The spot is the pulp or root canal, which may lie open to oral cavity, eventually leading to a tooth abscess.

When your home exam reveals dental problems, or if you are still uncertain, a trip to the veterinarian is in order. The veterinary oral examination will begin with a complete visual examination of the face, mouth and each tooth. Frequently, pets' mouths have several different problems that need care. We will use a record chart, similar to the one used by human dentists, to identify and document such dental problems.

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Certified veterinary
technician attaching
anesthetic montior

A more detailed exam then follows. Unfortunately, cats and dogs can not point to dental abnormalities with their paws, so in order to determine the proper treatment plan, other tests are usually necessary. Sedation and anesthesia are essential to adequately evaluate oral conditions. Anesthesia allows us to thoroughly examine each tooth individually. Modern veterinary medicine offers a wide array of medications and monitoring equipment to increase the safety of anesthesia.

Next, we examine with a periodontal probe to measure gum pocket depths around each tooth. One or two millimeters of probe depth normally exists around each tooth. When dogs or cats are affected by periodontal disease, the depths may increase to ten millimeters or greater. If the probe depth is greater than three millimeters, periodontal disease is present, requiring additional care to save the tooth. Unfortunately, by the time some pets are presented for dental care, it is too late to save all of the teeth, necessitating some extractions. Preventative care and periodic check-ups should help hinder the loss of additional teeth.

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Bone loss around root of
lower fourth premolar

We may also take x-rays of abnormal dental conditions. X-rays show the inside of the tooth and the root, which lie below the gumline. We use human dental x-ray machines. Many decisions are based on x-ray findings. Usually, we will visually examine the mouth, note any problems, take x-rays under anesthesia, and then tell you what needs to be done.

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Root canal files used to
remove infected pulp

If your dog or cat needs advanced dental care, where can it be found? Some veterinarians have taken post-graduate dental training in order to better serve their patients. Nationally there are 49 veterinarians who have passed advanced written and practical examinations given by the American Veterinary Medical Association, which certifies them as dental specialists. There are three in Florida (one in south Florida, Dr. Bellows, and two in central Florida). Veterinary dental specialists can consult with your veterinarian or see your dog or cat directly without a veterinary referral.

Dogs and cats do not have to suffer the pain and discomfort of untreated broken, loose teeth, or infected gums. With the help of thorough examinations, x-rays, dental care, and daily brushing, your pet can have healthy teeth and keep smiling.


This page last updated on October 31, 2000
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Jan Bellows, DVM
All Pets Dental Clinic
17100 Royal Palm Blvd.
Weston, FL 33326
(954) 349-5800