Dental care is often overlooked but is vital for good general health in companion animals. The visible benefits of a good dental health program are cleaner teeth and fresher breath but the problems you can’t see are the most concerning ones. Infection from periodontal disease can spread to other organs and contribute to serious diseases of the heart, kidneys, liver and respiratory system. Periodontal disease can thereby shorten the life of a pet, in addition to causing pain and discomfort.

Regular dental care by an experienced veterinarian and a home maintenance program are crucial in preventing periodontal disease. The doctors at Courtenay Animal Hospital perform an oral exam at every wellness visit to help identify problems such as missing or broken teeth, inflammation, tumors, and the buildup of tartar and plaque. We assist in developing a plan alongside pet owners for dental care. This care may require a professional cleaning under general anesthesia if periodontal disease is advanced or may be manageable with at home care.

At the first visible sign of periodontal disease, we recommend a complete oral exam and thorough cleaning, which requires general anesthesia in pets. We know how anxious families can be regarding anesthesia; we feel the same way about our own pets! We therefore prioritize patient safety before, during and after all dental procedures.

Pre-anesthetic lab work is performed to determine the metabolic health of the pet and identify any concerns that may affect anesthesia protocols or impede recovery. During the procedure, a dedicated highly trained technician monitors all vital signs closely until the patient is fully alert and recovered.

While anesthetized, the patient’s teeth are probed for pocketing, charted, ultrasonically scaled above and below the gum line, then polished to remove scratches and rough spots to prevent the rapid development of plaque. Dental radiographs are taken to assess dental pathology below the gum line that is not visible to the naked eye. In cases of advanced periodontal disease or tooth root abscess, tooth extractions or other oral surgery may be required. While such procedures sound intimidating, pets are often more comfortable immediately following tooth extractions because they have been managing pain for so long!

At Home Dental Care

To maintain healthy teeth and gums between professional cleanings, we recommend an ongoing care plan at home. Brushing pets’ teeth regularly is the most reliable way to mitigate periodontal disease. Using an oral rinse, water additive and/or dental chews may be helpful as well. We are eager to help you develop a manageable routine you can complete at home, depending on the unique needs of your pet. All of these measures can lengthen the time between anesthetic events and possibly eliminate the need for professional cleanings.

While routine brushing at home is an excellent way to slow the progression of periodontal disease, we do not recommend non-anesthetic cleanings in place of thorough procedures under anesthesia once periodontal disease is present. These cleanings are sometimes marketed as safer and equal in value and we understand that the concept is appealing to families to avoid the risks of anesthesia. Unfortunately, it is impossible to probe for deep pockets, take radiographs and fully evaluate a patient’s mouth without sedation. Anesthesia is also required to allow us to thoroughly clean under the gumline and reach the back surfaces of all teeth. Attempting to perform this level of cleaning while a patient is awake is not only very unlikely to be successful long term but prolonged restraint and discomfort also creates undue stress for the affected patients.