Dental Care

We offer a full line of basic dental services, including dental prophylaxis treatments (tooth scaling and polishing), dental x-rays, Sanos gingival sealant, tooth extractions, bonded sealants, gingivectomies, and open root planing. Pain medication, lidocaine nerve blocks (when appropriate), full anesthesia monitoring, heat support, and full mouth x-rays are included in all of our dental cleanings. For more information on Sanos, please click here.

Why Dental Health Is Important

One of the most common, and most preventable, diseases of dogs and cats is dental (periodontal) disease. Periodontal disease is the number one health problem in cats and dogs. By 2 years of age, 70% of cats and 80% of dogs have some form of periodontal disease. This disease is also one of the most under-treated conditions of cats and dogs. This is partially because there are generally no outward signs of disease. Though this condition can be very painful, most animals show little or no signs of obvious pain. This is because the disease progresses gradually and most pets are so accustomed to the discomfort, they do not react as we would expect them to. Signs of periodontal disease include halitosis (bad breath), reluctance to chew on treats/toys, reluctance or difficulty eating hard food, chewing on only one side of the mouth, blood-tinged saliva, drooling, pain when the mouth is touched, etc. Again, many pets with periodontal disease may not display these signs. In order to determine if periodontal disease is present, a thorough oral exam should be performed by a veterinarian. In addition to severe, chronic mouth pain, periodontal disease leads to oral infections that start in the gums and move to the bone of the jaw. The infection eats away at the bone, causing bone loss which may then result in jaw fracture. Some tooth infections can even threaten other facial structures, such as the eyes and nose. These infections can also travel to the tissues of the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys, causing organ dysfunction. There is an increased incidence of strokes, diabetes, and cancer in pets with untreated periodontal disease. Studies have found an increased risk of "generalized early mortality" associated with periodontal disease in humans, which is likely also the case with our pets. In human medicine, periodontal disease is more strongly linked with early mortality than smoking! Veterinary dentists refer to periodontal disease as a "silent killer". Many pets silently suffer from this condition and, without treatment, potentially fatal consequences may result.

A common myth involving dental cleanings and periodontal treatment is that older pets or animals with existing medical conditions (e.g. heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, etc) are not good candidates for anesthesia and dental cleanings or treatment. This is NOT TRUE! While anesthesia always involves some inherent risk, modern anesthetics and monitoring are very safe and problems are rare. Pets are never too old for proper dental care. We routinely anesthetize and perform dental work on geriatric pets. Additionally, the pets with existing heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes, etc stand to benefit the most from having their periodontal disease treated. As discussed above, untreated periodontal disease can cause infection and dysfunction of these organ systems. In some pets, improvement is seen with their kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes, etc after their periodontal disease is treated! Many owners also report a dramatic improvement in energy level and behavior once their pet has been treated for periodontal disease.

For a more detailed explanation of periodontal disease, see the video below, courtesy of board certified veterinary dentist Dr. Brook Niemiec:

For more information on how oral health affects the rest of the body, see board certified veterinary dentist Dr. Brett Beckman's video below.

In the followng video, Dr. Beckman also discusses how easy it is to miss signs of pain and discomfort associated with periodontal disease.

Dental Prophylaxis (Dental Cleaning)

We recommend that every pet be evaluated at least once yearly to determine if he or she needs a dental cleaning. Most veterinary dentists recommend yearly cleanings for cats and dogs to maintain their oral health. At Johnsen Animal Hospital, every dental prophylaxis includes tooth scaling (removing tartar and plaque), tooth polishing, anesthetized oral exam with probing of each individual tooth, and dental radiographs (x-rays) to identify problems below the gum line. If abnormalities are found, the veterinarian may recommend bonded sealant treatment, local antibiotic application, root planing or tooth extraction if indicated.

The equipment we use to perform the cleaning and polishing is the same type of equipment a human dentist uses. However, since a pet will not sit still and "open wide" for the procedure, the only way to do a thorough dental cleaning and exam is to use general anesthesia. We require that any animal over the age of 8 years have a pre-anesthetic blood work run to assess the overall health and safety of anesthesia for that pet.

Dental Care at Home

Possibly the most critical step in maintaining clean teeth and healthy gums is home dental care. Just like with people, a combination of good dental hygiene at home and regular professional cleanings are the best way to ensure healthy teeth and gums. Tooth brushing is the best way to keep your pet's teeth and gums clean at home. However, not all pets will allow routine brushing, so we have several products and suggestions for incorporating home dental care for your pet.

Learn How to Brush Your Pet's Teeth

Help prevent dental disease by brushing your pet's teeth. It only takes 24 hours for plaque, which is made up of almost pure bacteria (yuck!), to establish itself on the surface of teeth after a brushing or dental cleaning. If left undisturbed, this plaque mineralizes into cement-like tartar (also known as calculus) within 3 days and gum inflammation/infection (gingivitis) occurs within 2 weeks. If started early, regular tooth brushing can stop this progression. Tooth brushing takes time and patience to teach your dog or cat to accept and even enjoy, but it pays off with a more comfortable, healthy mouth and reduced professional dental treatment costs. The best thing to do is start tooth brush training when your pet is young, before periodontal disease has had a chance to establish itself. Tooth brushing is only recommended for animals who do not currently have dental tartar or infections (tooth brushing will not reverse tooth disease once it is already established and will only cause your pet discomfort), so have your pet's mouth examined by a veterinary professional before starting tooth brushing. If your pet has established dental disease, a professional dental cleaning is recommended, followed by tooth brushing 10-14 days later (after gum inflammation has resolved). Just as with people, tooth brushing is ideally performed every day. If this is not possible, try to brush your pet's teeth at least 3 times a week. Step by step printed instructions are available here or you can watch the video below.

If you have any questions about dental care, or any aspect of your pet's health care, please feel free to call and speak with a staff member.

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