When is the last time you visited the dentist? Yes, we’re talking to you!
For some of us, the word “dentist” is as offensive as a curse word. Taking care of our teeth is ingrained in us from a young age, but we don’t always take action.
But, what about our furry family members? Do they need a dentist, too?
Believe it or not, pet parents need to put as much effort into finding a dentist for their fur babies as they do when looking for the right food, treats, and chews to help them grow healthy and strong. After all, healthy teeth and gums are a vital component of optimal and thriving health.
Dog dentistry is new to most of us. But, once you know your dog (and cat) can suffer from the same oral health problems you do— plaque, gum disease, tooth loss, etc.— the idea of regular exams starts to make sense.
Did you know? Dental disease is often described as a “silent disease” for dogs because periodontal disease can progress quickly without any obvious clinical signs.
(Source: American Veterinary Dental College)
What is a Veterinary Dentist?
Veterinary Dental Specialists are veterinarians who have completed a 4-year doctorate in veterinary medicine and surgery after four years of undergrad. Veterinary Dentists are also required to complete a formal training program in veterinary dentistry. Before they are called a veterinary dental specialist, they must complete all American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC) training requirements and pass the final AVDC examination.
Common procedures performed by a veterinary dental specialist will include: advanced extractions, oral surgery to remove tumors, root canal therapy to save fractured teeth, restoration of teeth with metal crowns or zirconium crowns, treatment of malocclusions (crooked teeth or jaws).
How to Find the Right Veterinary Dentist for Your Dog
If you’re looking for a pet dentist in your area, you can check the American Veterinary Dental College directory. This directory will show you all of the pet dentists in your area licensed to treat all species. This directory has a FAQ for pet owners on pet dentistry, a list of all the pet dentists in your area licensed to treat all species, information about anesthesia dentistry and more.
Ask for Referrals
Nothing beats a good personal referral. Your friends and family may be a good source for trusted referrals for your new veterinary dentist. Or, if your dog already has a primary vet you trust, you can ask them for veterinarian dentist recommendations at your next appointment. You may not be aware that your vet offers veterinary dental services, as well!
Triple-check your recommendations before booking your appointment and cross-check the referrals against the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC) directory listings to verify all candidates’ credentials before making an appointment.
Review All Candidates’ Credentials and Experience
As a responsible pet parent, it’s important to do your due diligence and review all candidate’s credentials and experience. Make sure your vet dentist is licensed to provide care in your state and for your species of dog. Pet parents should also check that their dentist of choice is board certified and has plenty of experience under their belts.
Now that you have a list of possible veterinary dentists, look for a few online reviews to get a more in-depth look at their overall quality of service. Ideally, you’ll want to see many five-star reviews mentioning the vet and their staff as gentle, caring, and up-to-date on the latest technological advances within the industry.
Schedule a Consultation
The next step to finding the right veterinary dentist is to call your choices and schedule a consultation appointment. At this initial appointment, you can assess whether or not this dentist is a good fit for your family. Outside of routine questions and making sure you feel comfortable with them, be sure to also ask how they handle any medical surprises during the teeth cleaning. A common example is the dentist encountering teeth that should be pulled— do they call you first and go over the procedure or do they just remove it?
What Happens During a Veterinary Dentist Procedure?
Veterinary dentists perform a routine examination and teeth cleaning procedure with your dog under general anesthesia. Some vets may choose to use a pre-anesthetic to detect any hidden risks or illnesses that may put your dog at risk during anesthesia.
General anesthesia is an important part of the veterinary dentist’s toolkit, and it doesn’t have to be as scary as it seems. For good reasons, the AVDC does recommend dogs undergo general anesthesia for dental cleanings and procedures.
These reasons include:
- Safety of both your dog and hygienist
- Reduced pain and stress for your dog
- Ability to efficiently perform a complete oral examination
- Ability to easily perform a professional cleaning of all tooth surfaces, including areas below the gum line
- Ability to easily polish and smooth out any microabrasions caused by the scaling process
- Ability to easily perform radiographs (x-rays) of the teeth to detect damage and infection
- Protection your dog’s airway (windpipe) with an endotracheal tube from dental tools and debris
While your dog is under anesthesia, your vet will initiate the examination. This in-depth examination typically includes x-rays to look for tooth decay, gum disease, and other dental health conditions if needed.
The next step is a complete cleaning of your pet’s mouth using ultrasonic scaling. This technology fully removes stuck-on plaque found on your dog’s teeth.
“By vibrating tartar off the teeth with this instrument, we cause minimal trauma to the tooth enamel. The gentle nature of the scaler allows us to clean beneath the gum line,” explains Dr. P. of Skyline Animal Hospital. “Hand scaling is used to remove tartar from just below the gum line and clear out periodontal pockets."
Just like your dentist, if they find any problems during the exam, veterinary dentists can perform restorative techniques to repair teeth and gums.
Anesthesia-free dentistry is an example of when dental scaling is performed on animals who are awake. Though this practice is sometimes advertised as the ‘safer alternative’ to anesthetized dental, it is important to be aware that such practices can compromise the health and safety of your pet.
Here are a few of the many reasons why anesthesia-free dentistry is not recommended:
- When your pet is alert and awake, dental procedures often increase stress and cause pain. If your pet moves during the cleaning procedure, there is potential for the sharp scaling tools to injure your pet’s mouth.
- Because your pet is awake, the operator is unable to perform a thorough examination of the mouth, including the important evaluation of the ligaments and bone below the gum line. This means significant disease often goes undetected and untreated.
- Similarly, when your pet is conscious, it is not possible to thoroughly clean all surfaces of the teeth, including the surfaces below the gum line where most problems exist.
- When your pet is not anesthetized using an endotracheal tube, there is risk of tartar, water, cleaning material and debris going into your pet’s lungs.
Anesthesia-free dentistry can remove visible tartar and leave teeth looking clean. However, it’s important to remember that gum and tooth disease are not visible or easily accessible when your dog is awake.
Unlike humans who can obey our dentist’s instructions to open our mouths and turn our heads, our dogs are not able to cooperate enough to allow for a safe and thorough examination and cleaning when they are awake.
How Often Should My Dog Visit the Dentist?
You wouldn’t go years between dental exams and teeth cleanings. The same is true for our dogs. Generally, most dogs will need oral exams, cleanings, and dental X-rays about once a year, starting at about 6 months of age. Some species, like Greyhounds, may require more frequent visits. It’s best to check with your chosen veterinary dentist to find out your dog’s specific needs.
According to Pets WebMD, how often your pooch needs regular cleanings and exams may also depend on:
- Your dog’s age.
- Your dog’s breed. (Larger breeds often have fewer dental problems than smaller breeds.)
- The at-home dental care you provide.
What to Do In-Between Professional Cleanings
What can you do between cleanings and visits to your veterinary dentist? You still need to keep your dog’s teeth clean and their gums healthy. That's where we can help. You can practice daily at-home doggie dental care by giving your dog a Redbarn Chew-A-Bulls and a gentle routine brushing once a day. Your dog will be enjoying this new routine in no time!