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Rooting Out Dental Disease

Time To Flip Your Pet’s Lip, And Take A Look At What’s Underneath

“But he’s still eating!” 

This is the most common response I hear when I talk about dental disease in pets. Lets’ think about this. You have a Labrador Retriever. He has eaten anything and everything since he was eight weeks old, including dog food, socks, underwear, motorcycle gloves, small children’s toys, squeaker toys, mulch, and even poop. How much pain would it take to make that goofball Lab stop eating? The answer is, a lot of pain. 

Unfortunately for cats or dogs to stop eating, they need to be in severe and constant pain. When it comes to choosing between eating, even if painful, and starving, most pets opt to keep eating.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats will exhibit some stage of gum disease or periodontal disease by two years of age. This makes dental issues the most common problem that a veterinarian sees for any adult pet. And that’s just gum disease! There’s also fractured teeth, malocclusions (jaw and/or teeth misaligned), missing teeth, tooth resorption, auto immune disease, oral cancers, and more. 

The good news is that veterinary dentistry can do much to treat and manage dental conditions. The bad news: it is incredibly difficult to get a good and thorough assessment with a patient who is awake. 

What is a “dental” for a cat or dog? In the simplest terms, it’s a cleaning of the teeth. But a full veterinary dental cleaning and assessment is much more: it is what your human dentist would call a deep cleaning or perio cleaning – not just the scale and polish done by the dental hygienist. And, you would be under mild sedation because it’s very uncomfortable. 

To fully assess the mouth and its structures, including teeth, our animal patient must be under anesthesia, with an endotracheal tube to protect its airway and provide oxygen and anesthetic. The teeth are scaled and polished above and below the gumline. The gums are probed, just like your dentist does, to assess the pocketing around teeth. Full mouth dental radiographs are taken to assess periodontal disease, evaluate bone loss, look for tooth resorption, check for any missing teeth, assess endodontic (root disease), and even look for evidence of oral cancers. 

Then any problems found can typically be addressed the same day. This could include extractions, shortening teeth, removing excess gum, removing masses, and even root canals. For our patients, extractions are usually surgical extractions, meaning that the gum is flapped back like your quilt on the bed in the morning, the tooth sectioned into pieces, bone removed that is holding the tooth in place, then the tooth is removed, the bone smoothed, and gum sutured to cover the open socket. While this may seem like a lot, it is important to remember that our only goal in veterinary dentistry is a pain free mouth. 

For more information about veterinary dentistry, flip your pet’s lip with your veterinarian. You can learn more by checking out these links:



Dr. Kelly McGuire is an associate veterinarian at Park Hill Veterinary Medical Center at 2255 Oneida St. and an avid veterinary dental geek. For more information, visit

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