Dental Health Care Questions & Answers

In veterinary medicine, there are more than 20 specialties, ranging from a specialty in general practice to one in felines, surgery, internal medicine, radiology, or oncology. Dr. Eisner is board certified in veterinary dentistry. This means that he studied and trained in advanced dental diagnosis and procedures to help improve the oral health of dogs, cats and other furry pets. Dr. Eisner was one of the veterinarians who passed the first board examination given to candidates for specialist in veterinary dentistry in 1989.
Whereas most general small animal practitioners limit their services to cleaning and extracting teeth, a dental expert is trained and qualified in root canal and periodontal therapy, oral surgery, orthodontic adjustment and restorative dentistry, such as inlays, onlays and crowns.
Periodontal disease is an infection in man and other animals, which will occur in most animals. It affects the gums and bony supporting tissues that hold the teeth in their sockets. The battle of bad breath takes place as soon as a patient’s dental cleaning is completed because a sticky transparent layer begins to form on the surface of the teeth. Over a period of time, infection will build and the supporting jawbone will recede from the area of inflammation. Eventually the teeth will be lost if home or professional dental care is not performed. Smaller dogs and cats lose their teeth more quickly because they have less bone to lose.
Many times dogs or cats do not show dental pain to their owners, but the observant owner might notice one or more of the following signs:
1. Unexpected irritability
2. Excessive drooling (particularly from the painful side of the mouth)
3. An unusual hesitation to accept hard treats
4. Initial interest in approaching the food bowl, but then not eating
5. Unusual refusal of cold food such as ice cream
6. Avoidance of being petted about the head
7. Dr. Eisner has also observed instances of dogs growling (misinterpreted as arthritis pain), or incessantly circling in one direction in the presence of the owner (misinterpreted as boredom or restlessness).
These signs usually stop after the painful infection or a broken tooth is treated
Your veterinarian should check your pet’s teeth periodically. In fact, it is an important component of the physical examination. Good health for the entire body begins in the mouth. If there is infection in the mouth, it can eventually lead to disease in other organs such as the heart, kidneys and liver. Ask your regular veterinarian what he or she sees when examining your pet’s teeth.
1.The first oral exam should occur with your pet’s first puppy or kitten vaccination at 8 to 9 weeks, to determine if the baby teeth have erupted in a timely fashion and if the upper and lower teeth meet correctly.
2.The mouth should be examined again at 12 or 13 weeks, at the time of the 2nd vaccination, and again at 16 weeks, at the time of the adult vaccinations.
3.Adult teeth will erupt at 3 ½ to 5 months of age and the pet should again be examined at the time of spaying or neutering, or in the case of a breeding pet, at 6 months of age to assure that all the teeth have erupted and are in their correct positions.
4.Following this, annual dental/oral examinations should be conducted and your veterinarian should provide annual maintenance dental care.
No. A broken tooth usually exposes the sensitive pulp that consists of blood vessels and nerves that become infected when the animal grooms itself and eats grass or chews on wood in the back yard. Untreated infected teeth will die: dead pulp putrefies, putrefied pulp abscesses, and this can cause damage to the surrounding bone or nasal passages. The process is painful to pets and people alike. We can treat this tooth to eliminate pain and infection and save the tooth.
It will have a different shape and will usually be shorter than the same tooth on the other side of the mouth. A broken tooth may have a jagged edge. A damaged tooth, whether broken or not, may be discolored and be a pink, purple, grey or tan shade.
If you know the tooth was just broken, sometimes we can save it from dying by treating it in the first 48 hours. Success in saving the life of a broken tooth decreases dramatically after 48 hours. If the exact time of injury is not known, then it is important to treat the tooth before it abscesses. A tooth may abscess in a month or 5 years from the time of injury, but most will abscess and infect the surrounding bone.
Most likely your pet is not comfortable, whether or not you can see it. The nerve within the tooth has been damaged and your pet will experience acute pain at the time of injury. This pain will become a dull ache after a few days. Pets often hide their pain; others express their discomfort in various ways:
1. Refusing hard food or treats
2. Pawing at mouth
3. Frequent licking its lips
4. Moaning
5. Squinting from one eye
6. Being unsocial
7. Repetitive motion, such as circling in one direction (worrying)
8. Swelling or drainage on one side of its face or jaw indicating an abscess, possibly from a tooth
The most common and important symptom of poor dental health is bad breath. When a pet’s breath is worse than its bite, so to speak, it is time to see the veterinarian.
Plaque is a soft deposit that develops into hard calculus (tartar). Young dogs have whiter teeth than people, but their teeth, instead of appearing white, will appear yellow or light brown with the infection-laden deposits.
Yes, brushing your pet’s teeth can help prevent dental problems. However, regular periodic examinations and treatment by your veterinarian are also important, just as regular visits to the dentist are important for people.
When both people and pets leave the hygienist, they begin to form plaque within 20 minutes. This plaque can become a hard calculus deposit in as little time as one week. Therefore, a young healthy pet should have its teeth brushed 3 times a week. Daily brushing can make the difference between saving and losing teeth once periodontal disease has become chronic.
Brushing a pet’s teeth is not for every person or every pet. The key to having the teeth last a pet’s lifetime is to have the professional care interval set appropriately for your pet’s needs. Many pet owners have more difficulty in providing home dental care for smaller dogs and cats because the mouth is small and often the pet is less willing to accept brushing.
Dogs and cats don’t always have bad breath. It is a sign that the pet’s mouth needs a veterinarians’ attention. In fact, when dogs and cats receive the same level of dental hygiene as their owners, they have the same pleasant sweet breath.
When a pet has horrible breath, this often indicates dental infection. Every time the pet eats, bacteria are shed into the blood stream. If bacteria are constantly circulating in the bloodstream and bombarding the organs, sooner or later the health of the pet will be affected.
It is best to use veterinary toothpaste or gel and brush designed for pets. Although some pets have no problem with some human dentifrices, human toothpastes contain surfactants that often irritate a pet’s stomach and cause drooling from the indigestion. There are many veterinary dental home care products today and they are supplied in pet-friendly flavors such as beef, poultry, malt, mint, vanilla and seafood (for the cats of course). These pet toothpastes can be swallowed. In fact, are so tasty that it’s best to store them on a high shelf in a closed cupboard so the pet can’t eat the whole thing, packaging and all.
Hard, digestible treats, such as “milk bones,” clean teeth by abrasion, but dogs and cats, as carnivores, break and gulp their food. They may bite once, to reduce the size of the item, but then they swallow it. The abrasion offered by hard treats, though beneficial, is primarily on the crown of the tooth rather than in the crevice between the gum and the tooth where the odor and infection is concentrated.
Ideally, the first time a pet should receive a professional cleaning is shortly after its adult teeth have come in. This usually coincides with the time of neutering or spaying. At this time a quick polishing and fluoride treatment will serve to toughen the surfaces of the developing young adult teeth and make them more resistant to infection. The adult teeth usually complete their development by 18 months of age. Dogs and cats should have their teeth professionally cleaned every year throughout their lives.
In Dr. Eisner’s experience, in performing advanced level veterinary dentistry for over 25 years, and in the opinion of his colleagues in the American Veterinary Dental College, dogs and cats cannot receive good dental care without the benefit of general anesthesia. General anesthesia is the procedure that allows veterinarians to safely use sharp, delicate curettes and ultrasonic scaling equipment effectively beneath the gumline of both the outside and inside dental surfaces.
Once your pet is anesthetized, the teeth are again examined, and a veterinary technician removes any heavy deposits with an ultrasonic scaler. Bad breath and dental infection almost always occur beneath the gumline. The areas between the teeth and beneath the gumline are curetted by hand, and the teeth are polished and the mouth and the delicate tissues rinsed. Often, after the deposits have been removed, the teeth are discovered to be infected, loose, chipped or eroded. X-rays are frequently taken to discover the extent of the problem and to plan the appropriate treatment. If necessary, tooth repair, extractions or gum treatment is performed, including an oral soak of the unhealthy gums. The entire procedure of a routine cleaning above and beneath the gumline usually requires 20-30 minutes in a cat and 40-90 minutes in a dog.
Very few anesthetic deaths occur today during veterinary dental procedures and this includes elderly and infirm patients. There is a small risk, but it is certain that infection will occur or worsen if professional care is not provided. Because of the importance of continual dental care throughout a pet’s life, we routinely perform pre-operative laboratory blood screening tests to alert us of potential risks. We place a tube down the windpipe of our anesthetized patients to protect their lungs and heart. We have faster and safer anesthetics. We have developed techniques for accurately monitoring blood pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide content of the blood, and other parameters as well. We increase the safety and the speed of recovery for our patients when we administer intravenous fluids for all patients and especially during long or stressful procedures and for elderly patients. Veterinary anesthesia, today, when used and monitored with care, should be considered safe by the public. It is no longer a reason to avoid providing for proper care for your pet.
Veterinarians and veterinary technicians are taught basic dental health and care and their knowledge is examined before they graduate. As in many fields today, postgraduate training is also available, both for technicians and for veterinarians, in advanced level dentistry such as orthodontics (movement of teeth), periodontics (treatment of the tooth supporting tissues), endodontics (root canal therapy for damaged teeth) and oral surgery (for developmental problems, injuries or cancer).
Horses need periodic dental care. Sometimes they have developmental problems of the teeth or jaw or have broken teeth or teeth that are worn abnormally and need professional evaluation and treatment. Pet rodents, rabbits and ferrets sometimes have similar dental problems and should be seen by your veterinarian. These problems in the “little furries” are sometimes associated with nutritional problems.