Dental Care for Pets

To ensure that your pet keeps that winning smile, it’s important to adopt a simple program of good dental care. Not only will your pet enjoy cleaner teeth and gums (and fresher breath!), oral health promotes wellness throughout your pet’s body. Without proper dental care, your pet may suffer from dental disease, bad breath, inflamed gums, missing, loose, or broken teeth, as well as pain and discomfort. Dental disease can also lead to other, more serious, health problems. To help avoid dental problems in your pet with an examination and cleaning or if you suspect that your pet may be experiencing dental problems, the veterinarians at Nassau-Suffolk Animal Hospital can help. Call our hospital at (516) 694-5930 to schedule a dental check up with our veterinarians today to determine the condition of your pet’s oral health and to remedy any existing problems.

Caring for your pet to avoid the dangers of gum disease:
Why proper dental care for cats and dogs is so important

It is very important to remember that dental disease is the most common problem to affect small animals of any age. Dogs have 42 permanent teeth while cats have 30 and, while they don’t get cavities often, periodontal or gum disease is common in both. In fact, veterinary experts estimate that up to 80% of dogs and 70% of cats that do not receive proper dental care will develop signs of dental disease by the age of three. (In fact, smaller breeds of dogs and greyhounds are highly predisposed to developing severe periodontal disease.)

Imagine what your mouth and teeth would look and feel like if you never brushed them or visited your dentist. That unappealing picture is the same for your pet. Without proper dental care, your pet will most likely suffer from bad breath, inflamed gums, missing, loose, or broken teeth, infection, dental disease, even organ damage, and all of the pain and discomfort such problems can cause. For these reasons, it is very important that your pet receives regular dental examinations and cleanings from your veterinarian and home care as well. The good news, however, is that dental problems and disease are easily prevented with regular dental care, such as this.

Signs that a pet may be suffering from poor dental health:

  • Bad breath
  • Visible tartar on the teeth
  • Swelling under the eyes
  • Loose or missing teeth
  • Difficulty eating (due to pain)
  • Discharge from the nose
  • Drooling or excessive salivation
  • Pawing at the teeth or mouth
  • Discoloration or staining of the teeth
  • Red, irritated, swollen or bleeding gums
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Lethargy and loss of vitality

Professional Veterinary Annual cleanings

Beginning at age one, your pet should have an annual dental examination and cleaning as determined by your veterinarian. During cleaning, the doctor will remove bacteria-causing plaque and tartar above and below the gum line. This will boost your pet’s natural oral defenses so that gum disease and other dental issues are less likely to become a problem. And please remember: Good oral home care prolongs the benefits of a professional cleaning.

Dental Home Care Tips

  • Brushing: the best form of oral home care is daily brushing with a soft toothbrush to remove disease-causing dental plaque.
  • The easiest way to introduce a pet to home dental cleanings is to start when it is a puppy or kitten. It is important for youngsters to learn to allow you to examine their mouths, both for dental cleanings and to administer medications if need be. Even if your pet is older, however, it can still be trained to accept a home dental cleaning by being patient, consistent with your efforts, and making it a pleasant experience for your pet.
  • If your pet does not like to have his or her mouth touched, start with very small steps, using positive reinforcement. Start with touching one tooth at first each day and then, very gradually, over a period of days, weeks or even months, work toward getting your pet to allow you to brush its entire mouth. Keeping the sessions short, using a dab of pet flavored toothpaste and offering a lot of praise will help make it a more pleasant and positive experience for your pet to become accustomed to having its mouth touched.
  • If your pet seems afraid of a pet toothbrush, try using a finger brush or even a piece of gauze wrapped over a finger at first. Add some pet toothpaste onto the brush or gauze because pets find it very tasty.
  • Make sure you only use toothpaste made specifically for pets. Pet toothpaste tastes good to pets and do not contain fluoride, which can be harmful when swallowed in large amounts.
  • If your pet will not safely tolerate your putting your hands in its mouth, don’t risk being bitten. Inform your veterinarian and he or she will schedule more frequent dental cleanings as necessary or provide you with other training advice.
  • The staff at Nassau-Suffolk Animal Hospital can show you how to provide at home dental care. We also offer enzymatic toothbrush kits and treats, and prescription dental diets to help you maintain good pet oral health at home.

Periodontal Disease in Dogs and Cats

This disease is the most common mouth problem in dogs and cats. Periodontal disease is an infection caused by the bacteria found in dental plaque. Unfortunately, bacteria can be present on even healthy looking teeth. Gingivitis, which is the first stage of periodontal disease, is an inflammation of the gum area that can be seen as reddened and swollen gums. Gingivitis is the only visible sign of periodontal disease. A complete oral examination with dental radiographs and periodontal probing performed under general anesthesia is the only way to appropriately identify the extent and severity of periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease first occurs when plaque and tartar begin to build up on your pet’s teeth. In the beginning, plaque might simply appear to be discoloration or staining on the teeth. Without regular brushing, however, this plaque builds up and turns into tartar, or calculus. This is the visible material you can sometimes see encrusted on the teeth and along the gum line of a pet’s mouth. Tartar can eventually damage the bone around your pet’s teeth that holds the teeth in place. It can dig into the gums at the base of your pet’s teeth and form pockets, where bacteria can become trapped and cause serious infections.

This condition is very serious in pets because, if left unchecked, it eventually leads to the destruction of each affected tooth’s supporting structures, causing pain, infection, and tooth loss. The infection also results in bacteria entering the bloodstream and damaging other organs or body systems in your pet, such as the kidney, liver, and heart. This complicates other underlying diseases, such as diabetes, chronic renal disease or chronic sinusitis.

Treatment for Dental Disease in Pets

To avoid dental disease, it is best to start with prevention. Beginning at the age of one year, your pet should have an annual dental examination. While the damage caused by periodontal disease is generally irreversible, it can be halted and treated with antibiotics and regular cleanings. In between your pet’s examination, you should follow your veterinarian’s advice regarding home dental care for your pet, including daily tooth cleanings and special dental care diets and treats. There are several stages of periodontal disease. The first stages can be treated with cleanings, medications, and subgingival cleaning. Pets with more advanced dental disease may need dental cleanings more than once a year. At the later stages, surgery is necessary to treat the affected teeth.


My pet’s tooth is broken, what should I do?

Seek immediate treatment. Broken teeth in pets, especially in dogs, are common, either as a result of chewing on something hard, or from trauma, such as being hit by a car. Broken teeth need to be treated. Just as in people, a broken tooth or one with a fracture exposes the nerves and blood vessels inside the tooth (the pulp) to the outside air and to infection. This can be extremely painful for pets, and leaving a broken tooth in place untreated is not an option because it can lead to chronic infection, abscess formation, and loosening or loss of secondary teeth.

There are two treatment options: extraction or root canal therapy (which is performed by a specialist). Performing a root canal will save what is left of the broken tooth by cleaning out the pulp inside and filling it with an inert material so that it cannot become reinfected�"the same process that is performed in humans. If root canal therapy is not an option, the tooth can be extracted. In this case, your veterinarian will recommend medications to help reduce pain and swelling following the extraction. Titanium silver crowns can be placed over teeth that have had root canal therapy to help prevent further fractures from occurring. This is especially popular for working dogs, such as police dogs, search and rescue dogs, and hunting dogs.

I’m not sure I can afford dental cleanings every year.

While dental cleanings seem like an added expense, they’re actually a relatively inexpensive investment in your pet’s health. Caught early, dental problems are easy to treat. If left untreated, they can become serious, painful and costly.

Why Does My Pet Need Radiographs for a Dental Exam?

Dental x-rays are becoming the standard of care for pet dentistry, just as they are in human dentistry. Without radiographs, or x-rays, it is impossible for a veterinarian to detect problems below the gum line or within the tooth itself. Radiographs are necessary before deciding on a course of therapy in order to help determine, for example, how extensive a tooth fracture is.

Nassau-Suffolk Animal Hospital offers state-of-the-art digital dental radiographs (X-Rays) as part of our hospital’s dentistry services. In the course of dental treatment, specially designed dental radiology equipment allows our doctors to view structures that lie below the gum line. The location of tooth root infections, the extent of periodontal bone loss, the identification of bone cysts and tumors can be identified using dental x-rays. With this knowledge the best decisions can be made in the treatment of your pet.

Does my pet need to be anesthetized during cleanings?

While the quality of dental care we can now offer to pets is very similar to what humans enjoy, there is one important difference: you can’t explain to your pet what is happening and why. For that reason, pets must be anesthetized for anything other than the most cursory of examinations. In order to perform a thorough checkup, your veterinarian or trained veterinary dental technician needs to be able to visualize all your pet’s teeth�"even those in the back of his or her mouth�"and be able to access the entire mouth with instruments during the cleaning procedure. For more complicated procedures, such as tooth extractions, oral surgery, and root canal, it is essential.

Anesthesia-free dental cleanings are, unfortunately, becoming popular, but are inappropriate for a number of reasons. First of all, using a sharp instrument to remove calculus in the mouth of a pet that is awake is unsafe and carries a high likelihood of damage to the oral soft tissues in the event of slippage of the instrument. Secondly, true periodontal pathology is that which is found under the gum line, and cleaning and probing for pockets under the gum line is impossible in a pet that is awake, especially between teeth that are far back in the mouth. Lastly, cleaning under the gum line and deep into periodontal pockets can be painful and uncomfortable, as one can imagine a dental cleaning would feel had they not brushed their teeth for a year. For that reason, it is imperative to provide appropriate pain control for these procedures.

Is the Veterinary Anesthesia Safe?

While there is always a slight risk when using anesthesia on a pet, or even a person for that matter, today’s veterinary anesthetic agents are extremely safe. To further maximize your pet’s safety, your veterinary team will recommend pre-anesthetic testing to make sure there are no hidden health problems that could compromise your pet’s ability to undergo the procedure. In addition, your pet will be monitored while under the anesthesia and during recovery. The risk of disease from dental problems is far greater than any risks presented by the anesthesia. Owners are often especially concerned about anesthetizing older pets. However, many dental problems can be extremely painful as well as contribute to the development of systemic disease. With pets today living longer and longer, owners must weigh, in consultation with their veterinarian, the risks and benefits of allowing an older pet to possibly live years with a painful condition. Dental problems can be a cause of weight loss and loss of appetite in older pets, particularly cats. To rule out an underlying disease, it is recommended that all older pets receive an examination, including blood-testing and, if warranted, chest x-rays, prior to their dental procedure.