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September is Dental Health Month!
We have all had it happen, that beautiful dog comes in for a lick, and we get a nose full of a rotten smell. All our pets can get both obvious and hidden dental issues. These issues can lead to mild signs such as bad breath to more serious signs of bleeding gums and chronic pain to very serious complications in the heart, liver or kidneys. And that is just with our dogs and cats. Horses, rabbits, goats, and rodents all have teeth that grow continuously, which occasionally leads to sharp points and spurs that can cause anything from difficultly eating to life threatening conditions. Similarly pigs can get issues with overgrown tusks.
Ideally, dental care starts at home with the right selection of diet, brushing of the teeth where possible, and various other items that can help. But even before that, the single most important activity you can do is “take a look”! Opening the mouth, or flipping the lip is the fastest way for you to assess your pet’s teeth. Even though our pets’ teeth may be different in shape, we all know what teeth should look like: ivory coloured, no stain, no plaque or tartar, stopping at healthy pink gums. Some breeds have pigment in their gum tissue making in black. This is normal.
Anything out of the ordinary should be checked by your veterinarian. By “out of the ordinary” we mean more that just a buildup of tartar, inflamed gums or a bad smell. Gradual change in behavior can be a big indicator of dental disease. It may be as simple as your pet no longer chewing on one side of their mouth. Or it could be an increase in aggression, or being more withdrawn. These signs and more can be indications of tooth pain. Every veterinarian has stories of the pet who became a new animal after a thorough dental exam and treatment.
During that exam and treatment, you should expect that small animals such as dogs and cats will receive a health exam, a general anesthetic (usually with bloodwork), a full scaling and polishing, any necessary extractions, dental x-rays and a check of all the tissues inside the mouth. An anesthetic is standard practice as the work cannot be done effectively without it. As many dental treatments are performed on older animals, veterinarian are well practiced in low-risk geriatric anesthetics. For the larger animals, like horses, a sedation is often required for the dental exam and treatment. The nature of the work here is different as the teeth are usually being trimmed or “floated” to restore a normal chewing surface.
As with everything, prevention is the key to a lifelong healthy mouth. Have a discussion with your veterinarian about your pets’ mouths and your options for keeping the teeth clean. If you suspect a dental problem, please see you veterinarian immediately since delay prolongs the pain and complicates the treatment. Hope everyone has had a great summer.