Dental Disease in your Vail Valley Pet

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Dental Disease in your Vail Valley Pet

Your Pet’s Dental Health

            Maintaining your  pet’s dental health is a very important aspect of keeping your dog or cat a happy, healthy member of your family. Just as we need regular dental check-ups and cleanings, so do our furry friends. Routine dental cleanings once a year go a long way in ensuring your pet is not in pain from a diseased tooth and is in the best overall health possible.

            Dogs and cats can actually develop many of the same problems we see commonly in people. For example, issues such as broken or abscessed teeth, periodontal disease, oral tumors, misalignment of teeth, and jaw/palate defects are all problems that veterinary dentistry aims to prevent and treat. Periodontal disease is one of the most common dental conditions in our animals. If prophylactic measures are not taken to stop or slow the progression of disease, your pet can have severe health problems that can affect other parts of the body such as the heart, liver, and kidneys. Early signs of periodontal disease can be seen in dogs as young as 2 or 3 years old, and timely treatment is of utmost importance.

            The beginning stage of periodontal disease starts with plaque buildup which hardens into tartar that you can see on the tooth above the gumline. However, it is the tartar that you cannot see from the outside and is hidden under the gumline that leads to progression of disease. This hidden tartar can lead to inflammation of the gums, damage and infection of the jaw bone, as well as the soft tissue that connects the teeth to the bone. The tooth can be thought of as an iceberg--the crown of the tooth is just the tip of the iceberg we can see, but a majority of the tooth is under the gums, rooted in bone, and not visible from an outward exam. This is why dental x-rays are so important. They show us what is really going on underneath and can reveal decay and abscesses causing pain in your pet’s mouth that would otherwise go unnoticed.

            When your pet undergoes a dental procedure, full general anesthesia is used. Unlike our human dentists, who can tell us what they are about to do and why it is important, your dog or cat does not understand that they need to be quiet and still while we clean their teeth and take x-rays. This is why it is not recommended to perform dental work on animals without anesthesia—it poses a much higher risk of injury to the animal and veterinary staff, not to mention that cleaning under the gums and taking x-rays would be almost impossible in an animal that is awake. Of course, anesthesia itself has associated risks, however, measures are in place such as pre-anesthetic exams, bloodwork, and continuous monitoring during the procedure that make the benefits of a dental cleaning under anesthesia far outweigh the risks. Usually pets are able to go home the same day of the procedure and recover very well at home.

            What can you do at home to help decrease the number of dental procedures your pet needs throughout its lifetime? Although it may be surprising to some, brushing your dog or cat's teeth once a day is actually the best way to remove and prevent the buildup of plaque and tartar. This can require a lot of training and patience with your animal, and even then sometimes it is not always possible if your pet is particularly mouth-shy. Another alternative is dental chews or a specifically formulated dental diet. If you are interested in trying any of these products, talk with your veterinarian about which products they recommend since there are many items available and choosing which option might be best for your pet can sometimes be difficult. In the end, with proper care at home and regular dental check-ups and cleanings with your veterinarian, your pet will remain happier and healthier throughout their life.

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