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Proper dental care should be a regular part of your program for keeping your dog or cat healthy and happy.

It is often overlooked, but pets can suffer the same kinds of dental problems as humans, including severe pain, infection and tooth loss. You can help prevent those issues - and solve those that do arise - by learning about the basics of tooth care and working closely with your veterinarian.


Most dental problems start small and build over time for pets. Beginning at a very young age, food particles, bacteria and debris can build up at the gum line and under the gums to form plaque. Left unattended, plaque can harden to become calculus and lead to serious oral conditions, including gingivitis, periodontitis and stomatitis.

Periodontal disease is the most common disease of small animals. It can be very painful, but pets often suffer in silence - sometimes until all of their teeth have become infected. Relieving that pain may bring a noticeable brightening to a dog's behavior and personality.

A Visit to Your Veterinarian

Pets should have periodic dental exams. The frequency depends on the animal's age.

The Exam

A veterinarian will examine your pet's teeth and gums in many of the same ways that a dentist looks at yours. The examination will include a visual and manual inspection to check for signs of gum disease, tooth discoloration, loose teeth and indications of sensitivity or pain. It may also include:

  Periodontal probing. This involves the use of an instrument that probes between the tooth and gum to measure the depth of the gum pocket. Deep gum pockets are signs of periodontal problems.

  Anesthesia. Examining and performing dental procedures on a pet is not simply a matter of asking the animal to open wide.

  X-rays. Some tooth problems can only be fully diagnosed by a full-mouth X-ray because 70 percent of the tooth structure is beneath the gum line and thus invisible to the naked eye.


An examination of your pet's tongue and other oral soft tissues to search for abnormalities such as tumors.Your veterinarian will clean your pet's teeth if there is a build-up of tartar or plaque. This can be done ultrasonically just as it's done for humans. Your vet will probably recommend removing loose teeth and recommend either removal or a root canal procedure if there's tooth decay.

The Danger Signs

You can examine your pet's mouth yourself to watch for developing problems. This, too, should be done with caution. It involves looking into the back of the mouth where tartar builds up most and requires pulling your pet's mouth toward the ear. You will be looking for:

  •   Tooth discoloration, signs of a stony yellow or brown substance on the teeth
  •  Red or inflamed gums, particularly where the tooth and gum meet
  •  Bleeding gums
  •  Loose teeth or any sign that your dog flinches when a tooth is touched
  •   Bad breath
  •   Drooling
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