Pet Dentistry: Why Dogs (and Cats) Need Dental Care Too

4 min read



By T. J. Dunn, Jr., DVM


Pet dentistry has become an established aspect of good veterinary care. And for good reason!  One of the best things a pet owner can do to insure the overall health of their pet is to do routine checking of the teeth, gums and oral cavity.


Look at the two photos below -- one shows a healthy state of oral hygiene, and the other ... well, you can see for yourself that this dog has some major problems.


A healthy mouth with normal bacterial flora and sound gums and minimal plaque buildup.
An unhealthy oral cavity with all sorts of unfavorable bacteria, gum and inner lip ulcerations, receding gums, root exposure and plaque buildup.


The dog whose photo is on the right runs the risk of toxin absorption into the blood stream. Bacteria, too, can invade the body through the blood stream by gaining entrance into the oral lesions. This is called bacteremia.


If the bacteria get a chance to settle and reproduce in the lining of the heart or heart valves, a serious condition may result called bacterial endocarditis. Kidney damage and joint problems are a common sequele to bacterial invasion via the unhealthy oral cavity.


What Veterinarians Can Do


What if a seven-year-old dog was presented for annual vaccinations and during the physical exam the veterinarian notice the plaque on the teeth and inflamed gums at the margins of the teeth and gums?


If left to its own evolution, the dog's gingivitis and plaque would worsen over time. The dog would eventually develop cavities in the teeth, gingival recession, bacterial contamination, loose teeth and root exposure. It probably would hurt, too!


Typically, the dog would be admitted in the morning after an overnight fast from food and water.  If the routine blood tests are normal and the dog is judged to be a good candidate for anesthesia and dentistry, we can begin. 


There are various pre-anesthetic sedation that are utilized, depending on the dog's size and the veterinarian's preference. After the dog is relaxed general anesthesia will be applied. This, too, can be in various forms. In this case, we will discuss using an endotracheal tube, which is regulated throughout the procedure so that work can be done painlessly and still have the patient at a safe level of anesthesia.