Oral health for dogs and cats is a priority at the North Country Veterinary Clinic. A significant number of dogs and cats have some stage of periodontal disease and studies have shown that poor oral health is not only painful but can shorten the life span of your pet. Preventative care is our best defense against oral disease. This includes home care, such as brushing, and regular exams by Dr. Henderson. Unfortunately, it is impossible to perform a thorough exam on a dog's or cat's mouth in the exam room. A thorough exam requires general anesthesia to examine the entire oral cavity and to use instruments to assess the teeth and gums. Anesthesia also allows for x-rays to be taken as many problems are below the gum line and not visible.
Cleaning the teeth also requires anesthesia. The tartar build up is very hard and ultrasonic and metal instruments are needed with water to completely clean the teeth. After the tartar is removed gentle polishing of each tooth is performed to leave a smooth surface to slow the build up of tartar.
If extractions are required, the teeth are removed surgically. Dog and cat teeth differ from humans, in that the roots are very long and fragile. These long roots require that the gum is lifted exposing it to allow for complete extraction. After the tooth is out intra oral x-rays are taken to ensure there is no remaining root fragment left behind. The gum flap is then sutured to cover the socket. A long acting nerve block is given prior to the procedure to provide extra pain relief in addition to the medication sent home.
One of the biggest concerns people have with pet dentistry is general anesthesia. Modern anesthetics and monitoring equipment make anesthesia very safe. The benefits of a healthy mouth far exceed the very low risk. You can check out the Surgery FAQ page for more info.
For more comprehensive information check out the "Information for Owners" page on the American Veterinary Dental College web site.