Q: Why does my pet have bad breath?
A: Animals have bad breath only when there is oral disease. It is estimated that about 70-90% of pet dogs and cats suffer from periodontal disease. Early inflammation of the gums in response to the accumulation of dental tartar is reversible with scaling and polishing of the teeth. However, as gum recession and attachment loss occur, the teeth become loose and require extraction. This more advanced stage of periodontal disease is painful. Although most animals “suffer in silence,” treatment of dental disease frequently results in a notable change in the animal’s behavior. Owners often report that their dog “acts like a puppy again” and that their cat “is no longer grouchy and always hiding under the bed.”
Q: Do dogs and cats get cavities?
A: Dogs occasionally get cavities, more correctly called caries. These are treated in the same way that your dentist does in people. Cats, on the other hand, have a high incidence of tooth resorption. This is a condition of unknown cause that results in the loss of tooth structure, often with spontaneous fracture of the teeth. This is a very painful condition. Since the cause is not known, there is no preventative treatment at this time. Affected teeth are surgically extracted.
Q: Why does my pet have to be asleep just to have its teeth cleaned?
A: While some animals might tolerate scaling of the calculus from the crowns of the teeth, it is very important to examine the periodontal pockets (the space between the teeth and the gums) with a periodontal probe and to remove any calculus that exists within this pocket. Evaluation and treatment of the periodontal pocket is not possible if the animal is awake as this area is too sensitive. Removing the supragingival calculus without addressing the calculus below the gum line is of no benefit for the patient. The balanced anesthesia and preemptive pain control, along with very careful patient monitoring, minimize the risks of anesthesia. Almost all patients, regardless of the dental procedure performed, are able to go home the same day.
Q: Why does it cost so much just to have a bad tooth pulled?
A: In addition to the requirement for general anesthesia, there are two other factors that contribute to the cost of tooth extraction: dental x-rays and gingival flap closure of the extraction site. Unlike people, who can “swish” with an antiseptic rinse after tooth extraction, dogs and cats require surgical closure of the extraction site so that food does not collect in the socket and cause infection or impede healing. Radiographs (x-rays) of the teeth are obtained with small plates that fit in the animal’s mouth. Dental radiography is an essential part of treatment planning and, postoperatively, confirmation that all tooth roots have been removed.
Q: Why doesn’t my regular veterinarian perform these dental procedures?
A: While your primary care veterinarian is trained to recognize the symptoms of oral disease, dental radiography is not generally available in veterinary practices, and most veterinarians have not obtained the post-graduate training in dentistry needed to perform surgical extractions and advanced dental procedures.
Q: My pet’s fractured tooth doesn’t seem to be a problem; why does it need to be extracted or have root canal treatment?
A: We assume that since the teeth of dogs and cats so closely resembles those in people, that these animals have the same degree of pain associated with tooth fracture and tooth infection that we suffer with dental disease. When the pathology is treated, most owners report a significant change in the patient’s behavior, indicating that their pet did indeed “suffer in silence” prior to the treatment. Root canal therapy is highly successful in the dog and cat, and offers the opportunity in many cases of tooth fracture for saving strategically important teeth.
Q: My dog’s canine tooth is discolored; does it require treatment?
A: Discoloration of the tooth is usually indicative of pulp death. This sets up an environment for endodontic infection and eventual tooth root abscessation. Again, these are painful conditions; treatment (root canal therapy or surgical extraction) is indicated.