Tech Talks by Emily Harbury, LVT
The American Veterinary Medical Association has declared February as National Pet Dental Health Month. Many of our local veterinary clinics offer special discounted prices in February for dental exams and prophylaxis. Prophylaxis refers to the evaluation, scaling, polishing and extractions that are needed for a complete and thorough dental. Sealants can also be applied to healthy teeth to prevent further decay.
How often do you look at your dog’s teeth? Any of these signs are a signal that you need to get your dog into your vet for a dental exam before his next scheduled annual exam:
- bad breath
- broken or loose teeth
- extra teeth or retained baby teeth
- teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar
- abnormal chewing, drooling, or dropping food from the mouth
- reduced appetite or refusal to eat
- pain in or around the mouth
- bleeding from the mouth
- swelling in the areas surrounding the mouth
Periodontal disease starts with plaque that hardens into tartar. Tartar above the gumline can often be easily seen and removed. Plaque and tartar below the gumline is damaging to the jaw bone and the tissue that connects the tooth to bone. Periodontal disease is graded on a scale of 0 (normal) to 4 (severe).
Periodontal disease is the most common dental condition in dogs – by the time your pet is 3 years old, he will likely have early evidence of periodontal disease, which will worsen as your pet grows older if effective preventive measures aren’t taken. Early detection and treatment are critical because advanced periodontal disease can cause severe problems and pain for your pet. Periodontal disease doesn’t just affect your pet’s mouth. Some serious health problems often found in association with periodontal disease include kidney, liver, and heart muscle changes.
The exam begins with the veterinarian examining your dog’s mouth. The initial exam may tell the veterinarian that all is well with your dog’s current dental health and no immediate action needs to be taken. If there are broken or infected teeth that should be extracted, your dog will need to be anesthetized during that procedure. If serious infection is discovered, an antibiotic will be given for a few days before any procedure.
Your dog will need to be under anesthesia for a thorough dental prophylaxis. Anesthesia makes it possible to perform the dental procedures with less stress and pain for your pet. A licensed veterinary technician (LVT) may perform the cleaning and initial exam. If there are periodontal pockets found, the LVT will consult with the veterinarian to determine if the tooth is still viable or if it needs to be extracted. Applying local blocks and extracting teeth in question are often completed by the LVT. The LVT can suture the flap of gingiva if necessary after extraction.
Regularly brushing your pet’s teeth is the single most effective thing you can do to keep his teeth healthy between dental cleanings, and may reduce the frequency or even eliminate the need for periodic dental cleaning by your veterinarian. Daily brushing is best, but less frequent brushing can be helpful. If you have concerns about bad breath or continued health, the vet can recommend chews or drops that are safe and effective in keeping tarter and plaque in check.
There are many over the counter (OTC) pet products marketed with claims that they improve dental health, but not all of them are effective or safe. Talk with your veterinarian about any dental products, treats, or dental-specific diets you’re considering for your pet. Two recommended products are Greenies or CET chews. Greenies are available OTC and are often available at your veterinary clinic. C.E.T. chews are only available through a veterinarian. These two products have been tested and are highly effective. C.E.T. Chews also have an antimicrobial enzyme to keep the bacteria in your dog’s mouth in check.
If you are concerned about Greenies or the C.E.T. chews causing a blockage in your dog’s intestine, talk to your veterinary staff. Both of the above mentioned products will easily dissolve in water. Your dog’s stomach acid should quickly finish the job.