By 3 years of age, most pets have periodontal disease to some degree. Bad breath is not the only repercussion of poor oral health. The team at Wales Animal Clinic wants to explain what a professional dental cleaning entails, and how your pet can benefit.

Is periodontal disease problematic for my pet?

Neglecting your pet’s teeth can result in several factors that can affect their health.

  • Inflammation — Dental disease begins when plaque develops under the gumline, providing an excellent environment for bacteria to proliferate. Their presence triggers the immune system, resulting in an inflammatory response. This inflammation not only counteracts the bacterial infection, but also damages the surrounding tissue, which can lead to tissue erosion, spread of infection, and pain for your pet.
  • Bacteremia — As dental disease progresses, bacteria may enter the bloodstream, a condition called bacteremia that can result in seeding infection to other organs, such as the heart and liver. Pets suffering from moderate to severe periodontal disease are six times more likely to develop endocarditis (i.e., inflammation affecting the heart’s inner lining and valves).
  • Diabetes complications Diabetic pets are more prone to periodontal disease. The inflammation and infection affects blood-sugar metabolism by decreasing the body’s insulin sensitivity. This makes stabilizing a diabetic pet difficult until the periodontal disease has been addressed.
  • Fractured jaw — Infection and inflammation can weaken the jaw bone, resulting in fractures. Small-breed dogs, such as Chihuahuas, Maltese, and shih tzus, are at higher risk because they have a small jaw and disproportionately large teeth. Pets whose teeth have been removed may also be at increased risk, because the lower jaw is weakened when supported by fewer teeth.

What will my pet experience during a professional dental cleaning?

The Wales Animal Clinic team will first perform a thorough physical examination on your pet, and assess their preoperative blood work, because we want to ensure they are healthy enough to safely undergo general anesthesia. Your pet will be sedated and intubated to ensure a clear airway is maintained, and to administer oxygen and anesthetic gas. They may receive intravenous fluids throughout the dental procedure to maintain their blood pressure and hydration status. 

Once anesthetized, your pet will receive a thorough oral examination, including mandibular lymph nodes, salivary glands, tongue, tonsils, and all oral tissues. Each tooth will be evaluated for looseness, fractures, discoloration, and any other abnormalities. A dental probe will be used to measure the depth between each tooth and the gumline. Dental X-rays may be recommended to further assess your pet’s teeth. Without X-rays, the veterinarian can see only half the tooth structure.

If your pet does not need any extractions or other procedures, their teeth will be cleaned, first with an ultrasonic scaler to remove the larger plaque and tartar sections. A hand scaler is then used to remove the smaller pieces, and to clean under the gumline and around the entire tooth. Once all plaque and tartar are removed, all teeth surfaces are polished to prevent plaque and tartar from adhering to the small etchings the cleaning tools leave on their teeth. After rinsing your pet’s mouth, fluoride or a sealant may be applied to their teeth to help reduce plaque and calculus formation. 

How often should my pet have a professional dental cleaning?

Every pet’s mouth is different, but most pets should be evaluated every six months. Certain breeds, such as Chihuahuas, dachshunds, and Yorkies, are prone to periodontal disease. Periodontal disease indicators include bad breath, bleeding gums, and difficulty eating, and you may see blood on your pet’s food as they eat or on their chew toys. If you notice these signs, schedule a veterinary appointment as soon as possible.

How can I contribute to my pet’s oral health?

If your pet will allow you to brush their teeth, once or twice daily brushing can greatly improve their oral health, and they may require less frequent professional dental cleanings. Some tips to consider about brushing your pet’s teeth include:

  • To access the upper and lower teeth outer surfaces, lift your pet’s lip without opening their mouth—pets resent having their mouths opened.
  • For your first attempts, use a soft bristled brush and warm water.
  • Brush in a circular motion, and angle the bristles toward the gingival margin.
  • Brush the inside surfaces last.
  • Offer your pet a high-value treat once the procedure is completed.

If your pet resists toothbrushing, you can use commercially available rinses and gels to help decrease plaque and calculus accumulation. Chewing on appropriate toys can also help remove some build-up. Ensure that any chew toy can be bent or flexed so that your pet does not break a tooth on the object.

Your pet’s dental health is as important as your own, and should be addressed to ensure they remain healthy and ready for their next photo op. If you are concerned about your pet’s dental hygiene, contact the team at Wales Animal Clinic to schedule an appointment.