Dental Health

Good oral health is an imperative part of good general health for your pet.  Dental disease can become the precursor to other systemic diseases such as heart and kidney disease.  At home prevention is an important way to continue your pet’s oral health.  Brushing your pet’s teeth is the gold standard, in order for this to be effective it must be completed no less than every other day.  Dental Health 1A finger tooth brush or normal tooth brush are both wonderful options.  Pet toothpaste is made to be appealing to your pet Dental Health 2and comes in a variety of flavors including chicken and beef.  Do not use human toothpaste on your pet, due to the addition of fluoride and Xylitol, a sugar substitute that is toxic and deadly for our furry animals.  In addition, chews and rinses are available to help prevent tartar build up, the veterinary oral health council, which certifies effectiveness of oral products has established a list of effective options and can be found at  One of our favorite product is the t/d Diet by Hills.These products are designed to prevent tartar build up rather than remove tartar build up, if your pet has heavy dental disease it is best to have a dental cleaning prior to starting using these products.

Signs of oral and dental diseases in dogs and cats:

– Bad breath.
– Loose teeth or teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar.
– Your pet shies away from you when you touch the mouth area.
– Drooling or dropping food from the mouth.
– Bleeding from the mouth.
– Loss of appetite or loss of weight (this combination can result from diseases of many organs, and early veterinary examination is important).

Dental Cleaning for your Pet

As humans it is recommended we have prophylactic dental cleanings every 6 months.  Due to the genetic predisposition of our pets as well as the food they eat, often the first dental cleaning does not occur until 4-6 years of age for our dogs and cats; amazing!  Different breeds are genetically predisposed to poorer dental health including our smaller breed dogs (Yorkshire Terriers, Miniature poodles, Bichon Frise ect) and may need sooner and more frequent dental cleanings.  In addition cats have unique genetics and develop reabsorptive lesions that may require more frequent dental cleanings and extractions (see dental surgery).  

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Dental cleanings do vary when compared to our experience as a human and our pet’s experience.  We understand the concept of opening our mouth and the idea that tartar removal may not be the most comfortable.  Unfortunately our pets do not.  Anesthesia is required in order to perform a complete dental cleaning for our pets.  Pre-anesthetic blood work and a thorough examination from your veterinarian is completed prior to any anesthetic episode.  When preforming a dental cleaning, the patient’s oral cavity is thoroughly examined, the patient’s mouth is charted indicating gingival recession as well as any gingival pockets that may have formed.  Full mouth radiographs are obtained.  This is a vital part of the dental procedure as 60% of all dental disease occurs below the gumline where the human eye is not able to view any pathology.  The teeth are scaled using an ultrasonic scaler that removes any calculus (tartar) build up both above and below the gumline.  The teeth are then polished just as ours are using specific pet safe toothpaste smoothing the surface and preventing further tartar accumulation.  If no pathology or sub gingival lesions are observed on the radiographs our pets are then woken up and resume their normal activities.

Recommendations are made as to continued preventative and oral health measures on a per-patient basis after each dental.

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The tooth has many layers.  The enamel layer is the outermost layer of the tooth and is the strongest substance in the body protecting all other layers of the tooth.  Inside the enamel layer is where the dentin is contained.  This is a porous layer that surrounds the pulp which contains the blood vessels and nerves of the tooth.  Every tooth is contained within bone and is connected to the bone with a periodontal ligament.  Above the bone is the gum or gingival layer.

Dental surgery is required if there is injury (trauma or wear to the tooth) as well as if moderate to severe recession of the gingiva and periodontal ligament occurs.  Our pet’s oral health is significantly controlled by genetics as well as wear and tear.  Cats and dogs do vary in regards to conditions they are most prone to.  


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Resorptive Lesion
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Resorptive lesion as seen on radiograph

Feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORL) are the most common dental lesions present in the cat. This disease process involves resorption of the enamel (outer tooth layer) of the teeth and progresses to resorption of the dentin (softer layer of the teeth under the enamel) and exposure of the pulp (the sensitive part of the tooth). The lesions can start at the root or the crown (visible portion) of the teeth involved. Cats with these lesions can show pain when the teeth are touched, and if many teeth are affected, increased salivation and excessive lip rubbing may be observed. Their appetite may decrease along with their activity level due to the oral pain they are experiencing.  Most cats who present with lesions consistent with FORL also have periodontal disease (disease of the teeth and surrounding structures from the buildup of plaque and bacteria). The periodontal disease causes inflammation of the oral tissues, and in cats, it appears the tooth is more readily absorbed than the surrounding bone as in other species. This is why yearly oral exams, teeth cleaning, and good home oral care are so important to slow the progression of FORL. The only effective treatment at this time is extraction of all affected teeth and this is where dental surgery comes into play.


Dogs genetics as well as behavior play a role into their oral health.  Smaller breed dogs are more susceptible to increased tartar (calculus) build up and may need to have dentals with extractions at a younger age.  Due to the playful nature of our canine friends, Dental Health 8stick chewing, rough playing with toys and munching on bones cause wear and tear and fractures of the enamel exposing dentin and pulp (the sensitive portion of the tooth).  

Full mouth dental radiographs are vital and are done at every dental in order to assess the impact that any wear and tear that may have occurred.  We can observe periapical abscessing (see circled picture) which indicates a separation of the periodontal ligament from surrounding bone.  If this separation is already occurring the tooth is compromised and extraction is needed.  In addition probing assesses whether or not there is gingival recession or pocketing or exposure of the pulp which can cause pain to our animals.

How is dental surgery done?

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Dr. Cindi performs a dental procedure

Dental surgery is a continuation of our dental prophylaxis and is only completed if a tooth is compromised.  All of the same procedures are completed as our prophylaxis including anesthetizing the patient, obtaining full mouth radiographs and cleaning all of the teeth (see dental propylaxis information on our website).  Again, because 60% of all dental pathology lies below the gumline, once our patients are fully assessed recommendations on treatment can be made.  It is not uncommon to uncover more pathology (dental disease) than we expect

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Tooth extraction site

during an awake oral examination.  Each tooth varies with its shape and number of roots, although the basic structure of teeth are the same.  The procedure for each tooth varies slightly but the basic premise does not change.  For dental surgical extraction, the gingiva is excised (cut away) revealing the alveolar bone which holds the tooth in place.  The bone is then gently drilled exposing the roots of the affected tooth.  Carefully the tooth is removed (if it only has 1 root) or is bisected (more than one root) and then removed.  The resulting alveolar bone is then smoothed out with a drill.  The gingiva is then sutured back together.  The sutures will dissolve on their own and there is no worry about removing them.

Dental Health 11Our patients are continued on pain medications after dental surgery.  It is imperative soft food or moistened kibble are fed and no hard bones or toys are played with for the next 2 weeks to ensure healing.  After 2 weeks normal feeding and behavior may be resumed.  During this time returning to tooth brushing and using the Veterinary Oral Health Council (website: approved dental chews and treats will aid in preventing further oral pathology.