If you’ve cuddled up on the couch with your pet lately and noticed that his breath was less than fresh, it might be time for a pet dental exam. Bad breath is often the first sign of dental disease, a common but preventable condition in pets.

So common, in fact, that it is cited as the most common health problem in pets, according to the American Veterinary Dental College. By the time pets are 4 years of age, over 85% of them have some form of dental disease, whether it be gingivitis or periodontitis. More than bad breath, dental disease can cause significant pain, tooth loss, and even systemic disease of major organs when bacteria from your pet’s mouth enter the bloodstream.

A pet dental exam is the first step in determining the extent of the problem, and normally occurs as a part of your pet’s annual wellness visit. But what exactly happens at a pet dental exam, and what can it show? Blue Valley Animal Hospital is decoding the pet dental exam, here.

What is a Pet Dental Exam?

Like any physical exam, a dental exam begins with your pet’s history. Your veterinarian will ask about your pet’s breath, any drooling, bleeding gums, difficulty eating, or pawing at the mouth – all signs of dental disease.

Next, your veterinarian will check your pet’s head, neck, and mouth for any swelling or enlarged lymph nodes. The inside of your pet’s mouth will be examined for any loose teeth, swollen or bleeding gums, or discomfort. These signs signal gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums. Gingivitis is caused by a buildup of bacteria-rich plaque and tartar on the teeth and gums. When bacteria from the mouth enters the bloodstream, it can cause damage to the heart, liver and kidneys.

Your veterinarian will then tell you the stage of dental disease your pet has, from Stage 1 to Stage 4. This allows you to develop a plan for your pet’s oral health.

All of these aspects of the pet dental exam can generally be accomplished without sedation. However, to thoroughly examine each tooth and the surrounding tissues, general anesthesia is needed. Under anesthesia, digital dental radiographs can be taken, showing the tooth root, supporting tooth structures, and the bone beneath. All of these need to be evaluated in order to ensure the health of your pet’s teeth.

Each tooth will be probed and any recession noted. Deep pockets will be noted and treated, and any teeth that cannot be saved will be removed, with your permission.

Benefits of a Pet Dental Exam

Pet dental exams are beneficial at any stage of life. As puppies and kittens, your veterinarian can evaluate baby teeth and ensure adult teeth are coming in properly. And dental exams from an early age get your pet used to having their mouth gently handled, which makes future visits easier and less stressful for them, and you!

Adult and senior pets greatly benefit from regular pet dental exams as well, even when they are seemingly healthy. By catching small problems before they become advanced disease, we can treat earlier, saving discomfort for your pet and saving you money.

At-Home Dental Care

During your pet’s dental exam, a professional cleaning may be recommended. Most pets need cleanings regularly – after all, can you imagine what your mouth would feel like if you never saw the dentist?

At-home care, such as daily tooth brushing, chews, rinses, and a specially formulated dental diet may also be recommended to keep your pet’s mouth healthy. Believe us when we say that tooth brushing is not as hard as it sounds! We are happy to give you a demo in our office.

Your team at Blue Valley Animal Hospital looks forward to your pet’s next dental exam, and we are committed to helping you give your pet a lifetime of great oral health. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions!