The Whole Tooth and Nothing but the Tooth!

Facts about Dental Disease

Periodontal disease is the single greatest challenge in dentistry and it is the most frequently seen condition in the veterinary hospital. Gum disease affects 85% of dogs and cats over three years of age.

This disease of the supportive structures of the teeth is progressive, unrelenting, usually non-regenerative, and incurable. With proper care, however, it is manageable, and one must think prevention rather than cure when thinking about this disease.

Plaque can be deposited on the tooth’s surface as quickly as six hours following prophylaxis (dental cleaning). This is why veterinarians recommend brushing you pet’s teeth regularly, preferably daily.

Dangers of Periodontal Disease in Pets

The most dangerous aspect of periodontal disease is that build-up below the gum line is not obvious to the untrained eye. It can only be detected by a trained person using a dental explorer. The untrained tooth cleaner will remove material for cosmetic reasons, while the disease process is left untreated to advance above or below the gum line.

Most pets as well do not enjoy fingers and instruments in their mouths and only the veterinarian is trained and skilled in the use of today’s sedatives and anesthetics. However, all kittens and puppies should be taught to tolerate their owners brushing their teeth.

What to Expect When You Take Your Pet in for a Dental Examination

During a professional examination, a veterinarian will examine your pet’s mouth for early signs of tumors and other infectious or degenerative processes. A pet owner seeking professional dental care can expect the following in a comprehensive oral health assessment and treatment:

  • A thorough physical examination of the pet prior to sedation or anesthesia
  • An in-depth examination of the entire oral cavity
  • Removal of plaque and tartar above and below the gum line
  • Polishing of the sulcus (groove) to remove debris
  • Application of Oravet Plaque Prevention Gel
  • Home care instructions
  • A follow-up appointment to re-evaluate the patient’s condition and determine long term home care

If you are concerned about your pet’s dental hygiene and his or her general health, seeking veterinary care will not only benefit your pet, it will also assure you that the job has been done correctly, thoroughly, and by a veterinarian.

Before Treatment

After Treatment

Common Questions about Dental Disease

What does my pet’s bad breath come from?

Halitosis can come from several different sources. The most common source is overgrowth of bacteria in the mouth. Some of these bacteria produce sulfur compounds as waste products which impart an unpleasant smell to the breath. Normal breath in dogs and cats should not smell bad, but may smell of the food they just ate. Another source is kidney or stomach disease, which should be ruled out by your regular veterinarian. If they just ate something odiferous their breath may smell bad temporarily, but should clear in an hour or so.

My dog has dirty teeth. I have tried cleaning them myself with canine toothpaste and brush, but it doesn’t seem to help much. I do not want my pet to undergo general anesthesia. Is there anything else I can do? His gums bleed sometimes.

Teeth must be cleaned to remove calculus and plaque. Bleeding gums is a sign of gingivitis and developing periodontal disease. While daily brushing is necessary and recommended, it cannot keep all the teeth entirely clean indefinitely. Animals, just like humans, must have periodic professional cleanings. To do this thoroughly and completely, anesthesia is necessary. Then, the client can brush the patient’s teeth daily to maintain good oral health and prolong the time between such professional cleanings. There is no way for the client to scale the pet’s teeth effectively at home. While the cosmetic effect may be pleasing, underlying disease is being missed and tooth loss can still result. To be performed thoroughly, and all disease identified and treated, it must be done when the pet is under anesthesia. After the initial scaling and oral health evaluation by the veterinarian, the client can help maintain the pet’s oral health by daily tooth brushing.

I have heard of anesthesia free dentals. Are they effective?

Unfortunately these are not effective. No self-respecting dog or cat will allow a person to do a thorough subgingival scaling and polishing while awake. The subgingival portion of the cleaning is the most important component since this is the area in the mouth where plaque and bacteria can cause the most damage. In addition, quality dental radiographs cannot be properly obtained while the patient is awake. Furthermore, most dental procedures performed on patients with moderate to severe dental disease will involve some degree of discomfort, so providing anesthesia is a humane approach compared to anesthesia-free optionsHow often should I have my pet’s teeth cleaned?

This depends on the individual animal. Some dogs and cats, particularly the smaller breeds, or those with “squished” faces, need cleanings at least annually. Larger breeds may be able to go a little longer between cleanings. But the way to be sure is to have your veterinarian assess your pet’s oral health at each examination so you can arrange to have them cleaned before periodontal disease sets in. Our pets are like humans in that regard. They are all different and there are no general rules for all.

My cat picks up his food and drops it. Sometimes his mouth opens and closes rapidly when this happens. Why?

Dropping food may be a sign of tooth pain caused by a condition similar to tooth decay. This pet should be examined; dental radiographs may also be necessary.

Why must my pet’s teeth be pulled?

Teeth are usually extracted because of severe periodontal disease, fractures, resorptive lesions, misalignment, and other problems that cause discomfort or difficulty in chewing.

My pet’s tooth is fractured. What should I do?

Only two choices for treatment are practical. The veterinarian may extract the tooth or perform root canal therapy. Leaving it alone is not an option because it will result in infection of the pulp (probably already present), which can cause pain and other medical problems. Even if the pet is eating and acting normal, the fracture should be evaluated and treated.

My pet has both baby and adult teeth in place. What should I do?

This is a common problem, particularly in small breeds. The baby teeth must be surgically removed to allow sufficient room for the adult teeth. If this is not done as soon as it is discovered it may cause permanent orthodontic problems. Please have them evaluated right away.

What kind of food is best for my animal’s teeth?

There is a dizzying array of pet foods available today. Many claim to be good for the pet’s oral health. BUT, only those which have the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal of approval, (VOHC seal), have proven through research that they do what they claim. Some control plaque formation, and some mechanically clean the teeth. The most important thing to remember is to feed the amount based on the weight your pet should be, and not to exceed that to avoid obesity.

Should my pet eat hard or soft food?

The answer to this varies with the individual pet. Cats, for instance, will not adjust to changes very readily. And the truth is that dogs and cats do not “chew” their food. They break it or tear it into smaller pieces and swallow the pieces. The general consensus is that soft food is more likely to promote plaque formation and hasten periodontal disease, but there is no research to support that view. The best choice is to consult with your regular veterinarian, or see the answer.

What kinds of treats are healthy for pet’s teeth?

There are as many treats available for pets as there are brands of food, and probably more. Some even claim to be good for your pet’s oral health. We recommend only those with the VOHC seal of approval (Veterinary Oral Health Council). These treats have research backing their claims that has been evaluated by a council of Board Certified Veterinary Dentists, and proven to do what they say. To check the approved list go to on the following link.

Can you do a treatment and consultation on the same day?

We prefer to do our consultations in the mornings and our treatments or procedures in the early afternoon. That way all pets in for procedures can wake up and go home the same day. It is also very important for us to be able to plan our procedures so that all our patients can be treated in a timely manner and our staff can perform efficiently and thoroughly. Examinations are usually done in advance of treatment so we can assess the actual time needed to complete the planned work, and provide you with a closer estimate of time and cost. Following your pet’s treatment, our trained staff will review your role in continuing your pet’s dental health care needs at home and in the future. Call our office today to schedule a free dental examination for you pet, and find out what his or her specific needs may be.

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What Can You Do at Home for Your Pet’s Teeth?

It is very important to your pet’s health to receive regular dental home care just as you take care of your own teeth. Animals have no special ability to resist dental disease. Please read the following guidelines to help assist you in achieving a successful dental home care program for you and your pet.

Step 1: Examine and Touch the Mouth, Teeth, and Gums
The first step is to make it fun and relaxing for your pet. Use lots of praise and start slowly. Begin by offering a small amount of flavored pet toothpaste on your index finger as “a treat” daily for 5-7 days. This conditions your pet to expect a treat when they see the tube of toothpaste.

Step 2: Brushing the Teeth with Pet Toothpaste
After this initial introductory period, as you give the paste, use your index finger to rub the teeth and gums in small circles, the same motion as a toothbrush. Continue this for 5-7 days. Once your pet becomes comfortable with this, then progress to a soft bristle brush and continue the same routine. You may want to offer a small amount of the paste before and after brushing as a reward. Some pets will require daily brushing, while others can be maintained by brushing a few times a week.

*** Human toothpaste is not meant to be swallowed and should NOT be used on your pet.

Step 3: Mouth Rinses
Pets with advanced periodontal disease or pets that will not allow brushing may also benefit from an antiseptic oral rinse. These rinses are not as well liked as the flavored toothpastes and will not remove plaque as well as brushing, but they will help reduce plaque bacteria.

Step 4: Treats
There are products that have been proven in clinical trails to reduce plaque and tartar accumulation. Look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (V.O.H.C.) Seal of Approval on products to ensure that are beneficial for your pet’s dental health.

*** Avoid hard treats such as real bones, hard plastic bones, and cow hooves as they can lead to broken teeth.

Step 5: Diets
Specially formulated diets are available that help reduce plaque and tartar build-up. Iams and Eukanuba diets have added chemicals that retard the mineralization of plaque to tartar, thus making the teeth easier to keep clean. Other diets such as Hill’s Prescription t/d diet works mechanically to “brush” the teeth when chewing. The t/d diet can be fed as the sole diet, or as treats.

Step 6: Dental Vaccine
There is currently a dental vaccine available for dogs known as the Porphyromonas Vaccine. The Porphyromonas Vaccine is the first and only vaccine to aid in the prevention of canine periodontitis which affects 85% of dogs over 3 years of age. It can be given to puppies over the age of 7 weeks or healthy adults and should be administered as 2 doses 3 weeks apart.

Step 7: Tooth-brushing Club
Should you find it difficult to brush your pet’s teeth regularly or if you find that you simply have a difficult time doing it by yourself, let the trained staff at Campus Vet help you. By purchasing a membership to our Tooth-brushing Club for your pet, you’ll receive a total of 8 one-on-one sessions with one of our trained veterinary technicians who will show you both proper technique as well as give you helpful pointers that you can use at home.

If you find you cannot perform dental home care on your pet, and you want to keep your pet healthy and avoid bad breath and dental disease, you MUST seek professional treatment more frequently! For most pets a professional cleaning once a year is adequate. Pets with pre-existing dental disease and those lacking dental home care may need professional care more often.