Dental Care Is Not Just For People

By: Dr. Kristi Sharpe

Dental Health month is almost upon us. Traditionally, February is the month many veterinarians focus on your pets’ dental health. At Rocky Hill we offer a discount on dental cleanings for the entire month. Dental hygiene is an aspect of our pet’s overall health that often gets overlooked until it’s a big problem. Veterinarians will check your pet’s teeth at each checkup and alert you to any abnormalities. Some issues, though, occur in between visits.

The number one complaint that we get from owners who have a pet that needs a cleaning is a foul odor to the breath. Odor is caused by an abnormal buildup of bacteria in the mouth. This is usually due to dental tartar. Tartar is a buildup of food particles, saliva and bacteria that has hardened overtime. I usually describe it as bacterial cement. This is a grey to brown deposit along the gum line of a few or all of your pet’s teeth. Most often dogs will start to have noticeable accumulation on the K9 teeth and molars first. Once it is there, no amount of brushing or dental chews are going to move it. Dental scaling will be needed to remove the tartar from your pet’s teeth.

Large amounts of dental tartar can affect your pets overall health. Tartar is irritating to the gums. So gingivitis is often a sequelae of excessive tartar buildup. This creates tiny microscopic sores that are a source of pain for your pet. This can lead to decreased appetite and possible weight loss. As the gum becomes increasingly irritated by the tartar it begins to recede away exposing the root of the tooth. Once you have tooth root exposure your pet can experience tooth sensitivity and eventually tooth loss. In really advanced dental disease those angry gums also act has a doorway for bacteria to enter your pet’s circulation. The bacteria can then cause issues with other organs and tissues of your pet.

Dental tartar isn’t the only reason a dog may need a dental. Tooth fractures exposing the pulp cavity of the tooth call for removal of the tooth under anesthesia. Exposure of the pulp cavity causes pain to your pet. Sometimes dogs and cats will show signs of tooth sensitivity; repetitive licking, chewing only on one side or pawing at the mouth. However, many pets do not show overt signs of pain when their tooth root is exposed. Pulp cavity exposure also predisposes the pet to tooth root infections. Along with nerves there are vessels and tissue within the cavity that bacteria can follow from the tooth surface to the root. Once a tooth root infection or abscess has developed it can be very difficult to manage without removing the tooth all together.

Dental cleanings are a necessity for some dogs, but they do not negate the need for continued dental health habits at home. Daily brushing with a pet safe toothpaste can help slow tartar buildup and help keep your pets teeth healthy. There are dogs and cats that are quite resistant to teeth brushing efforts. In that case we have to employ other tartar prevention methods. The Veterinary Dental Association has published a list of approved products that you can use at home to help maintain good oral health. These include dental chews, water additives and rinses. The list for dogs and cats can be found at In addition to providing the dental services, we also sell dental chews at the clinic and through our online store. Choosing a product that works for you and your pet will help you achieve success in maintaining those pearly whites.

If you are worried or have specific questions about your pets oral health feel free to give us a call or bring your furry friend in for a visit.

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