Contributed by Sarah Bashaw, DVM
El Dorado Animal Hospital, Fountain Hills, AZ

Dog with toothbrushWe all know how important good oral hygiene and dental care is for ourselves, but many pet owners don’t realize that it is equally important in our pets. Good oral hygiene and regular check-ups are essential in maintaining both oral and physical health, and to prevent pain and infection.

You may wonder if your pet needs dental care at all. There are some signs you may notice at home. Does your dog have “doggie breath?” Is it unpleasant for you to smell your dog when he’s panting, or is the odor from your cat when she’s grooming strong? These are possible signs of oral disease. Other symptoms might include heavy tartar on molars, bleeding gums or loose teeth. Most pets will not show signs of pain until the disease is very severe. If your pet is already exhibiting signs of pain or difficulty eating the disease process may be very advanced.

The first step in an oral health assessment is a visit to your veterinarian. An oral exam is performed in the exam room with your pet awake. Depending on the temperament of your pet, most of the teeth can be examined, but not all teeth and not every surface can be seen. After the initial assessment, your veterinarian will decide if further action is needed. If disease is detected, an anesthetized oral examination, assessment and treatment are the next step.

Anesthesia is safe in pets, and the side effects and risks are very low. It is required to use anesthesia to safely evaluate all the teeth, perform dental x-rays, and to clean under the gum line. Pets will not hold still like we will in a dental chair! General anesthesia is safest, as it allows protection of the airway with an endotracheal tube, and adjustment of the anesthesia can be easily achieved.

Once your pet’s oral examination is complete and disease is detected, treatment is done during the same anesthetic event. This might be as simple as a thorough cleaning both above and below the gum line, or if disease is severe your pet may require extractions or periodontal surgery. Your pet’s doctor will contact you during the procedure to discuss treatment options and advise you about what treatment needs to be performed.

- Dr. Sarah Bashaw has an interest in veterinary dentistry and has dedicated hours of post-doctoral hands-on and lecture training in the discipline. She recognizes the value to good oral health, and would be happy to discuss any concerns you might have about your pet’s dental care.