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Dental health is a crucial component to maintaining the health of your dog or cat. Failure to maintain good oral health can lead to serious conditions such as loss of teeth, infection, pain, and even heart damage, liver damage, and kidney disease. The last thing we ever want to see is the euthanasia of an animal due to dental issues that could have been prevented. 

At Hilltop Veterinary Clinic we try to highlight the importance of preventative treatments for dental disease.  Many dental issues can be prevented by regular brushing of your dog or cat's teeth with a veterinary recommended enzymatic toothpaste.  The easiest way to make this part of your routine is to start as a puppy or a kitten.  At a young age, animals are still learning what is "normal".  If brushing can be introduced at an early age, a pet is more likely to accept it.  No matter the age of the animal, with a little perseverance, most pets will accept tooth brushing.  For those who cannot manage brushing, we do offer a variety of prescription dental diets that can help slow the formation of dental disease. We also offer prophylactic dental cleanings as well as periodontal treatments such as extraction of diseased, broken, loose, or retained teeth. 

Dental disease is much more common in some breeds than others.  In dogs, the general rule is that small breed dogs are more predisposed to dental disease than large breed dogs.  When you bring your pet in for an annual examination, the veterinarian will assess any dental disease your pet may have and make recommendations based on their findings.  

Most often owners complain that their pet has "bad breath".  In many cases of severe dental disease, owners cannot see the severity of the problem because the teeth are encased in tartar.  

Here is an example of a healthy dog's mouth:

Here is an example of a 6 year old Border Collie with severe dental disease. The degree of disease is masked by the amount of tarter covering the teeth.

These pictures were taken before any tarter was removed:

These next pictures were taken after the tarter was partially removed by ultrasonic scaler. Note the spacing between the roots and exposed roots of the teeth that are a result of substantial bone loss. These teeth need to be extracted to prevent ongoing pain, infection, and damage to the underlying bone. 

These pictures are an excellent example of the dental disease that can be hidden by tarter.  It also highlights the difficulty we can have estimating how many teeth may need to be extracted during a dental procedure.  Until we remove the tarter and evaluate the teeth, the number of extractions expected and the degree of difficulty is merely an estimate.

Dental Disease FAQ's

  • What are the common symptoms of dental disease?
    • Bad breath
    • Loose, missing, or broken teeth
    • Teeth that are discoloured or covered in tartar
    • Drooling or bleeding from the mouth
    • Refusal to eat kibble or hard treats
    • Reluctance to play with hard toys
    • Sneezing or pawing at the face
  • My pet is still eating so how can his or her mouth be painful?
    • Pets will often alter the way they eat, such as chewing only on one side of the mouth, swallowing food whole instead of chewing, avoid hard treats or toys, or mask the pain altogether out of instinct. 
  • How will my pet be able to eat if teeth are removed?
    • Diseased teeth are not functional teeth. These teeth are causing pain, are not fully functional (i.e. loose or have significant bone loss around the roots), and are creating a health risk for your pet. 
    • In cases where the majority, or all, of the teeth need to be removed for health reasons, we recommend feeding a soft diet (either canned food or moistened kibble). Many pets however will continue to thrive on small kibble diets that can be swallowed whole without chewing (which they are probably already doing). 
    • Keep in mind that the goal of routine dental care is to prevent the need for major extractions. 
  • Can my pet's teeth be cleaned without being put under general anesthetic?
    • NO!!!! This just provides a false sense of security. Sadly it is not uncommon for us to see animals who at first glance appear to have beautiful teeth, but due to improper cleaning methods are experiencing bone loss, infection, and pain because of hidden disease beneath the gum line. 
    • A proper dental cleaning requires anesthesia so each tooth can be thoroughly examined, ALL surfaces of the teeth can be cleaned, and issues such as periodontal disease, fractured or loose teeth, or potentially more serious issues can be identified and treated. 
    • The adverse effects of dental disease on your animal's overall health and quality of life generally greatly outweigh the anesthetic risk. For most pets the risk of general anesthesia is quite low. If the veterinarian has concerns about putting your pet under for a procedure, they will discuss these with you at your pet's pre-dental exam. They are also happy to discuss any concerns you may have. 
  • How can I prevent dental disease?
    • Regular dental cleanings are paramount! Just think about your own mouth, despite daily brushing, flossing, and oral rinses your dentist still recommends cleanings every 6 months. Pets aren't that different (except they won't hold their mouth open during a cleaning or take control of their own dental hygiene routine); they need your help!
    • Prescription Dental Diets
      • Veterinary prescription dental diets are formulated to reduce plaque, tartar, and the occurrence of gingivitis while still meeting all the nutritional needs of your pets. These diets are all guaranteed and risk free to try! Our staff is happy to answer questions you may have or recommend a specific diet for your pet. 
    • Dental Chews
      • There are many different products available on the market today that claim to prevent dental disease in pets. Use caution! These often add unnecessary and unwanted calories without significant benefit to your pet's overall dental health. 
      • So often we see pets with substantial dental disease unbeknownst to the owner because they have been giving dental chews on a regular basis. While high quality products can certainly help, they do NOT replace regular, proper dental cleanings.
      • Our staff can help direct you toward safe, effective, and low calorie dental chew options. Just ask! 
    • Daily brushing helps remove plaque (the film of bacteria that coats the teeth) before the bacteria can cause inflammation and the plaque mineralized into tartar. 
      • Veterinary enzymatic toothpastes are recommended for brushing because they help inhibit plaque formation, are non-foaming, and are safe to be swallowed. 
      • Here is a video demonstrating the technique to brush your pet's teeth:

Don't forget about your feline friend!

Even cats need dental care sometimes. These pictures are of our clinic cat, Stewart, during his recent dental procedure with our RVT Carmen Astle. Just like all our dental patients, he’s wrapped in a heating mat to keep him warm, IV fluids to support his body while under anesthetic, and connected to machines to monitor his vitals. Note the redness around the tooth on his lower jaw. This was an oral resorptive lesion, a common and extremely painful condition in cats. This tooth was removed and the extraction site closed with suture. After a few days of recovery he was pain free again!


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