Veterinarian FAQs

As pets grow old, one of the things that is important to maintain is quality of life. If the teeth are severely infected or there is severe gingivitis and gum disease going on in the mouth, the quality of life is poor as the animal experiences discomfort and pain constantly. Older pets are more prone to infection in their mouths if teeth are left untreated, due to their weakened immune systems so it is often necessary to have more regular dental treatment such as scaling and polishing under anaesthesia in order to maintain their overall health.

Problems such as tooth root abscesses (a painful bone infection in the mouth) are often only discovered once your pet is asleep and the mouth thoroughly examined or x-rayed, with the only symptom of disease being the dog’s bad breath.

While there is some increased risk under an anaesthetic when you pet is older, the risk can be managed by performing a thorough physical examination, a blood test and fluid therapy prior to the procedure, as well as careful monitoring of heart rate, oxygen level and blood pressure while the animal is asleep.

It is considered part of responsible pet ownership to maintain the health and welfare of your pet as he or she grows old and this includes treating any dental disease present.

Please contact your local vet or Sydney Pet Dentistry if you have any concerns. Make some comments below.

Once the appointment is arranged things are pretty straight forward. Don’t feed your pet on the morning of the consultation in case general anaesthesia is required. If possible make sure your pet goes to the toilet beforehand as well. Aim to arrive approximately 10 mins prior to your scheduled appointment time so your details can be entered into the system.

The consultation and history taking is thorough and an initial assessment of your pets oral health and pain will be given. Consideration will be given to any other health problems your pet may have. A range of options will then be given with an estimate of costs and the most appropriate option for you and your pet can be undertaken.

Many pets will be admitted to hospital and anaesthetised. Anaesthesia is a safe, quick and painless procedure that allows a proper assessment and x-rays of your pets mouth. Then and only then can some dental conditions be properly diagnosed and appropriate treatment given.

Recovering from anaesthesia is usually uneventful and your pet can go home that evening in most cases.

Special note! The risk of anaesthesia is one of the biggest concerns for pet owners in having a dental procedure. Here is what we do to minimise this risk:

  • Great care is taken in the pre-anaesthetic assessment of your pet
  • The Animal Referral Hospital is also an emergency / critical care centre and so is perfect for high risk patients
  • Monitoring of patients before, during and after anaesthesia is highly advanced
  • Each individual has an anaesthetic protocol catered specifically to their needs which takes into account any heart problems, body condition, age and concurrent disease
  • Specialist anaesthetists can be arranged at an extra charge

Please speak to Sydney Pet Dentistry directly if you have any concerns about your pet being anaesthetised.

Regular pet teeth cleaning at home – just a few minutes a day – can improve your pet’s health, improve that bad dog breath, make them more comfortable, saving you money on treatment. So…how do I care for my pet’s teeth? (read more…)

Christine is not a specialist veterinary dentist. She has done further study and training in small animal dentistry, and has limited her clinical practice to this field since 2007. Christine attained membership of the Veterinary Dentistry Chapter of the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists in 2006 – this involved undertaking rigorous written and oral examinations.

There are two registered specialist veterinary dentists in Australia, Dr David Clarke and Dr Stephen Coles, both are based in Melbourne, Victoria.

Comment on this below.

Cleaning dog teeth is not as hard as you think. Cats can also be more co-operative than you expect! So why would you want to brush your pet’s teeth?

Periodontal disease is why we clean pets’ teeth

Periodontal disease is caused by plaque, a bacterial biofilm that adheres to the tooth surface (it is one of the only places you can actually see colonies of bacteria on your body!). If allowed to build up, plaque starts to accumulate and extend under the gumline, resulting in gingivitis and, over time, destruction of the ligaments and bone supporting the teeth (periodontal disease).

Homecare programs are how we maintain oral health

Home care programs are usually targeted at slowing down plaque accumulation, thus slowing down disease progression. They work best on a pain free and healthy mouth – one with no sore teeth and no plaque or tartar. No home care method will prevent plaque from forming altogether – even humans who brush their teeth twice a day get some buildup of plaque and tartar which needs to be removed by scaling and polishing.

Home care does not replace the need for regular dental examinations and professional cleaning, but it will increase the time period between treatments. Before commencing a home care program, it is recommended that you ask your vet to check for any existing oral problems so these can be addressed up front. This makes home care more effective, and gives you peace of mind that you are not causing more discomfort if your pet has any painful or sensitive areas.

Methods that may be recommended include those that physically remove plaque (such as brushing or chewing) or kill plaque bacteria (chemical rinses, gels or water additives). A combination of methods is most effective, and with a variety of options available, most pets can have a program designed that suits their individual needs and behaviour and fits in with your own lifestyle.

How do we brush pets’ teeth?

Tooth brushing is the most effective way of physically removing plaque from the teeth – that’s why human dentists recommend we brush twice a day! Spending a few minutes a day caring for your pet’s teeth can improve your pet’s health, improve their breath, make them more comfortable, and save you money on treatment.

If your pet will allow you to brush its teeth daily, you will significantly slow down the accumulation of plaque and, therefore, the discomfort and infection that follows.

Click here for our ten top tips for brushing your pet’s teeth. We also strongly recommend that you take your pet to see your local vet who can detect and treat any painful teeth or gums that might already be present BEFORE you take up the toothbrush.

Other homecare options

Dogs love to chew! Chewing has an abrasive action that helps remove plaque however it is important to offer something that is safe (not too small, hard or brittle) yet still effective. Cats tend to be are a bit more finicky than dogs, but can be convinced to chew if offered something interesting and tasty!

Raw Bones

Bones are very popular in Australia and have the benefit of providing enjoyment and boredom relief. However they should be always be used with caution as there are some common complications:

  • Some pets will break their teeth on them, particularly the upper carnassials (large cheek teeth). This can lead to infection of the jawbone and tooth root abscess if left untreated.
  • Bones can cause gastrointestinal obstruction and trauma. Cooked bones should never be fed as they are brittle and prone to splintering. Match the size of the bone to the pet (ask your vet for zadvice if you are unsure) to try and minimise the risk of choking or obstruction.

In fact, the FDA (USA) has recently produced a consumer warning about the risks associated with feeding bones to dogs (click here for more information). The bottom line is that, while some pets may chew bones for years and never have a problem, others do get significant problems that require urgent veterinary attention. If, despite the risks, you choose to provide bones for your pet, you should supervise your pet and remove any bones if concerned about their chewing behaviour. Softer chewing options that are widely available include special dental diets and a range of chew treats and toys.

Dental Diets

Although dry foods may help disturb plaque, many are not particularly effective in slowing down periodontal disease as they shatter when bitten, and therefore do not require much actual chewing. However, some pet food companies have now released both canine and feline dental diets which have been scientifically proven to help reduce plaque and/or tartar buildup. These may work by physically cleaning the teeth (they do not fall apart easily when chewed) or by the addition of chemicals that prevent the hardening of plaque to form tartar.

Some foods carry the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal which means they have been independently shown to be effective in reducing plaque and/or tartar accumulation. However, not all companies have sought to use this logo, so just because a product does not display it, this does not mean it is ineffective in slowing down periodontal disease.

Choice of diet may be affected by other health issues, so it is a good idea to get professional advice on which diets are most suitable for your pet – the best place to start is your local vet hospital.

Chew treats and toys

Other chewy options include specially designed dental chew treats (which may also be impregnated with chemicals that retard plaque growth), rawhides, pigs ears, and chew toys (such as rubber Kong toys). As with bones, careful consideration of size, hardness and brittleness is very important in minimising the risks. Hard toys (including some toy bones) should be avoided as they increase the risk of dental fractures. Tennis balls are very abrasive and can cause excessive tooth wear. As with bones, supervision of your pet while chewing is recommended.

Dental Antiseptics

Antiseptics kill plaque bacteria, and are most effective when combined with a method that physically disrupts the plaque layer to allow them to penetrate properly (this is why dentists don’t recommend we use mouthwash alone as a substitute for brushing our teeth!). They are available in several forms, including rinses, gels, pastes and water additives. Cats in particular may find some of these offensive to their sensitive palates, so ask your local veterinary hospital for advice on which product is best suited to your pet.

Talk to us!

We can give plenty of advice and would love to hear how you get on with cleaning your cat’s or dog’s teeth. Make a comment below.

Dog dental braces is a topic we are often asked about. Cosmetic considerations may be important to some owners, however the real focus of veterinary orthodontics is on making pets with badly positioned teeth comfortable. Animals do not need a perfect or ‘correct’ bite, but they do deserve a comfortable and healthy one.

When dog teeth are in an abnormal position, they may or may not be causing pain or eating difficulties. If they are causing problems for the pet, there are generally three options that may be considered – extraction of the teeth, crown shortening to relieve trauma, or moving the teeth using orthodontic braces or plates. Orthodontics will not always be suitable for every case, but may be worth considering as it can be less invasive than extraction and allow relatively normal function to be maintained.

It should be noted that there are additional ethical issues to consider when weighing up the option of orthodontic treatment in animals that are used for showing or breeding.

Feel free to contact us for advice on this or make a comment below.

Dog canine tooth with the root canal exposed. This tooth had a root canal treatment performed.

Extraction is a option for relieving pain and infection, and is therefore far more humane than allowing animals to suffer with a sore or unhealthy mouth. In many situations there are other treatment options available that can both relieve pain and infection, while preserving dental function.

Pet cats and dogs can live happy, healthy lives with missing teeth, or even no teeth. However, major teeth such as the canines (fangs) and carnassials (large cheek teeth) do serve important functions, both for chewing and in maintaining the position of the tongue and lips. Extraction of these teeth often requires aggressive removal of bone that can weaken the jawbone. Frequently, saving a tooth is less painful than extraction, and preserving dental function can maintain the pet’s current quality of life.

If periodontal disease is found early enough, many teeth can be saved with non-invasive treatments. Procedures such as root canal therapy or vital pulpotomy for fractured teeth are less painful and invasive for cats and dogs than extracting teeth with large, solid roots. Some painful orthodontic problems, where misplaced teeth are damaging the sensitive tissues of the mouth or other teeth, can be treated by orthodontic devices such as plates or braces, or reduction of the height of the offending teeth (vital pulpotomy).

Advanced tooth-preserving procedures are becoming more readily available for our pets, so it is worth considering all your options, including their benefits and drawbacks, prior to extraction.

Comment on dog root canal treatments below.

The Australian Veterinary Dental Society, a special interest group of the Australian Veterinary Association, has recently produced some guidelines to clarify to the profession and if necessary, to the public, what is considered to be a professionally performed dental examination and treatment in dogs and cats. These guidelines cover the both dental prophylaxis and treatment of periodontal disease. Click here to check out these guidelines on the AVDS website.

There is also a Position Statement on teeth cleaning in conscious dogs and cats on the AVDS website, which was written to draw attention to the need for general anaesthesia to allow a thorough dental examination and treatment in these species.  It is the position of the AVDS that these procedures cannot be adequately performed in a conscious or sedated patient. Click here for further information.

feline resorptive lesion

Feline resorptive lesions are a common cause of severe pain in cats.

Feline resorptive lesions (otherwise known as feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions or neck lesions) are a very common cause of dental pain in our feline friends. In fact, studies have shown that once cats reach middle age, at least half of them will have one or more resorptive lesions near or under the gumline, with the number of lesions increasing with age. Similar lesions also occur in other species, including man and dogs, but are relatively rare.

Resorptive lesions start as small holes in the structure of the tooth, which progress in size until they cause large defects. They are not the same as caries (or cavities) in humans, which result from bacterial acids eroding the enamel (usually due to a sugary diet). Feline resorptive lesions are caused by the cat’s own cells (called odontoclasts) destroying the tooth from underneath the enamel. Affected teeth are very sensitive, and if the nerve is exposed they can be intensely painful. Often the crown of the tooth snaps off, leaving a painful retained root in the jaw. If your cat has unexplained “missing teeth”, they may well have been lost through this process.

Signs that your cat may be suffering from resorptive lesions include reluctance to chew, chewing on one side, drooling, pawing at the mouth, lethargy or bad breath. However, many cats will not show their discomfort until the pain becomes unbearable. Visible defects in the tooth, localised inflammation, swelling of the gum to cover the lesion, or an area with increased buildup of tartar may be seen. Small lesions are often only detected under anaesthesia.

Treatment usually involves extraction, as fillings are ineffective (the resorptive process simply continues inside the tooth structure underneath the filling). Dental radiographs are very useful in determining the extent of the lesions and the best course of action. Despite years of research, veterinary dentists still do not understand what exactly triggers the cat’s odontoclasts to attack its own teeth – this makes it hard to recommend any effective preventative measures.

Tell us about your cat’s experience with feline resorptive lesions. Comment below.

A broken dog tooth

A broken dog tooth, note the dark stained area at the front of the tooth.

type of broken dog tooth

A slab fracture of the upper carnassial, a particular type of broken dog tooth. Note the exposed root canal.

Broken dog teeth (and cat teeth) should be assessed by your vet as soon as they are noticed. If the fracture is fairly small and does not expose the pulp (living tissue inside the tooth) there is a reasonable chance the tooth will survive. However, such teeth should be monitored closely as infection through the exposed dentine, or inflammation resulting from the injury may still cause the tooth to die in the following weeks. Sealing the exposed dentine can help protect the tooth
from infection, this is a quick procedure and is done under anaesthesia.

Teeth with exposed pulp will become infected and die if left untreated. In some cases, particularly in young animals with a very recent fracture, the tooth can be saved by a procedure called vital pulpotomy. However, in most cases root canal therapy or extraction are the best options. Doing nothing (‘wait and see’) is not a fair option for the animal as chronic
infection of the tooth and jaw will invariably occur.

Please comment on your cat or dog with a broken tooth below – we love to hear from people.