Do Animals Really Need Dental Work?

Updated August 17, 2016

Your pet is many things to you. He/she is your snuggle companion, your confidant, your walking partner, and a forever friend. You want your pets’ teeth and smile to be clean and bright for many days to come. Pets and animals need their teeth cared for just as humans do. If they are not treated correctly, they can have some of the same problems that humans experience, such as pain, decay, cavities, and tooth loss. Periodontal disease in a pet is common and if not corrected in time, can lead to worsening problems with their teeth and oral structures as the animal ages.

Animals need dental care just like humans, but it's a little more involved than you might think. Check out what goes into caring for zoo animals, and then read up on the procedures that keep your pet healthy and happy.

Panda Dental Surgery

The San Diego Zoo has a panda exhibit, and when the giant panda, Bai Yun, had some dental issues, the zookeepers stepped in. They knew the 23-year-old panda needed help when she chipped a tooth. These animals rely on their teeth for getting through the tough bamboo they eat, and with a chipped tooth, Bai Yun's health could have deteriorated quickly.

Luckily, with X-rays the veterinarians working with the panda were able to see how badly the tooth was chipped and figure out a plan to fix it. And, fortunately, there wasn't any nerve damage. Using tooth-colored filling, the veterinarians fixed the tooth. They used general anesthesia to help keep the panda pain-free and safe during her surgery, and they even did a full tooth-cleaning while she was under sedation.

Inside the Mouth of a Tiger

When it comes down to it, tigers are large cats and suffer from many of the same dental problems that house cats do. Unfortunately, finding a veterinarian or dentist to work on a tiger is a bit more problematic.

Rasa, a resident at Care Rescue Texas, had some major dental problems, and when the organization found a vet to help, they realized that the damage was pretty bad. Two of the big cat's eye teeth had grown sideways, causing the animal to be in extreme pain and making it difficult to eat. 

After putting the tiger under anesthesia, the dentist and his team were able to get to work. They helped straighten the teeth to prevent future issues such as unnecessary tooth decay and chipped teeth.

Periodontal Disease in Your Household Pet

Animals and Dental Work

Image via Flickr by Rennett Stowe

One of the most common dental issues in dogs and cats is periodontal disease. Unfortunately, this is an issue that can affect humans as well as animals. By the time a dog or cat is three years old, they may develop signs of this dental problem, and it gets worse as they age. Some signs of periodontal disease in dogs and cats include:

  • Loose teeth
  • Problems picking up food and eating
  • Red or bleeding gums
  • Bad breath
  • Noises when they eat or yawn
  • Ropey or bloody saliva
  • Bumps in the mouth

Periodontal disease is uncomfortable and can be damaging to your pets. A combination of plaque and tartar, as well as the softening and even loss of soft tissue around the bones, leads to complications within your pet's mouth. You may see your pet behaving differently, not as excited to eat when you give them food, a slower eating time, or no interest in hard rawhide treats that they used to love. If you notice any of these signs, it is time to take your pet to their veterinarian or an animal dentist as they may be experiencing signs of periodontal disease.

Luckily, there are a number of treatment options for pets with this dental problem, depending on the severity of the disease. It's always good to take your pet in for regular dental cleanings, so your veterinarian can detect or prevent any issues. The vet might apply an antibiotic gel to the teeth and gums to make sure the treatments are as effective as possible.

Veterinarians also regularly prescribe animal-safe toothpaste with which to brush your pet's teeth daily. You might need to give your pet fluoride to help improve its teeth. In some cases pets require periodontal splinting, bone replacement, or even guided tissue regeneration, depending on the severity of the case.

Advanced Pet Dental Procedures

Most dental procedures done on pets are common and don't require much more than an outpatient visit to your veterinarian. However, there are also more advanced procedures you might need to consider, depending on the problem your pet is facing and the severity of the issue.

For instance, root canals are becoming more common for pets than they once were. This is because they are now considered safer for the pet's health. In the past, if your pet had a problem tooth, the vet would simply pull it. However, this can lead to overcompensation when chewing and eventually more problems in the mouth. Getting a root canal for your pet allows him or her to continue eating properly. In addition, tooth extraction can actually damage the pet's jaw in the long run.

It might seem silly if you haven't had to deal with it, but pets need braces sometimes, just like humans do. If the animal has a moderate to severe misalignment of the upper and lower teeth, he or she might need to have braces to help correct this. The misaligned teeth can cause other issues in the future, such as soft palate, infection, and even periodontal disease.

An excellent way to keep your pet’s teeth clean and in a healthy state is to purchase treats that promote healthy teeth and gums for both cats and dogs. There are a variety of daily treats you can give your pet that are textured and in a shape that promote cleaning of both the tops and bottoms of teeth near the gum line. This textured shape is clinically proven to reduce both plaque and tartar buildup as well also promote good oral health and fresh breath.

Another important but difficult task to perform on your pet is to brush their teeth. There are a couple of ways to go about this. You can use a pet toothbrush and toothpaste recommended by your veterinarian, or you can use a finger toothbrush glove. This is an item you wear on your finger while you gently massage your dog or cat’s teeth and gums. It is more tolerable to them than brushing, and the finger glove is disposable, so there is no mess for you to clean up.

One of the best ways to make sure your pets have good dental health is to take them to a veterinarian or animal dentist. Through proper, regular care, your pet can stave off other health problems that stem from dental maladies.

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