When was your pet’s last dental examination? If it’s been more than a year since the veterinarian has taken a good look in her mouth, it’s time to make an appointment. This year, begin a healthy routine for your furry friend and make February her annual dental check-up month. Here are five reasons regular dental exams can benefit your pet.

  1. Your pet may have dental disease.

Dental disease is the most prevalent clinical condition to affect pet dogs and cats. If plaque and tartar formation are not stopped by regular prevention, pets are likely to have at least the beginning stages of dental disease by three years of age. Dental disease begins with the accumulation of plaque—a sticky substance made by oral bacteria. If plaque is not removed from the tooth surface by regular brushing or similar means, it quickly mineralizes into tartar, which accumulates as a yellow or brown substance on the crown of the tooth. Plaque and tartar also develop below the gum line, causing inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and of the periodontal ligament that holds the tooth into the bony socket (periodontitis). Dental disease will eventually cause tooth instability and loss.

A dental examination will allow our team to assess dental disease that may have already started in your pet’s mouth. Since most of the disease process occurs below the gum line, dental X-rays may be needed to evaluate the tooth root, periodontal structures, and surrounding bone.

  1. Your pet may not show signs that she is in pain.

As dental disease progresses to periodontitis, affected teeth become painful. Many animals instinctually hide pain until it becomes so unbearable they no longer can. Unfortunately, this means that pet owners often have no idea that trouble is brewing inside a pet’s mouth. Watch for these signs:

  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Red, inflamed gums
  • Visible tartar accumulation on the teeth
  • Excessive drooling
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Decreased food intake
  • Loose, broken, or missing teeth
  • Behavior changes (irritability)

During a dental exam, your veterinarian can detect the early stages of dental disease and intervene before your pet’s teeth become painful and periodontitis progresses to the point of tooth loss. If your pet’s mouth is already painful, your veterinarian can pinpoint the cause of the pain and prescribe the best course of treatment.

  1. It’s probably time for a dental cleaning.

Once dental disease sets in, a dental cleaning is the only way to remove tartar accumulation and stop the progression of disease. Although removing tartar on the tooth surface makes teeth look better, removal of tartar below the gum line is much more important. A thorough dental cleaning involves more than you may realize:

  • All teeth are visually examined for problems, such as fractures, gum recession, and root exposure.
  • If dental X-rays were not previously taken, they will be performed to look for disease below the gum line.
  • A dental probe is used to check for pockets between the tooth root and gums, which is a sign of periodontitis.
  • Tartar is removed from the tooth surface, both above and below the gum line, using ultrasonic and manual scalers.
  • The teeth are polished to reduce the build-up of bacteria and debris after the cleaning.
  • A fluoride treatment is often applied to strengthen enamel.

Just like their human owners, pets need regular dental cleanings. Every pet should have a professional cleaning at least once a year as part of their basic health care. During your pet’s dental exam, your veterinarian will let you know if it’s time for a cleaning.

  1. Dental disease can lead to severe health problems.

Although being able to snuggle your pet without doggy breath is nice, dental health is much more important than fresh breath and white teeth. In addition to halitosis and tooth decay, dental disease can lead to problems beyond the mouth. The bacteria hiding within tartar and below the gums can enter the bloodstream and travel to important organs, such as the heart, kidneys, and liver, which can result in dangerous systemic disease and organ failure.

  1. There may be more going on in your pet’s mouth than dental disease.

It’s rare that pet owners actually open their pet’s mouths wide enough to look inside. In addition to assessing dental disease, a thorough oral exam will allow your veterinarian to check her mouth for other problems, such as:

  • Misalignment of the upper and lower teeth
  • Extra or missing teeth
  • Palate defects, such as cleft palate
  • Jaw fractures
  • Oral tumors

Oral tumors in dogs and cats are often cancerous. If found early during a routine exam, a tumor can possibly be removed before cancer has a chance to spread to other parts of the body.

Questions about your pet’s dental health? Ready to schedule a dental check-up? Call us today!