National Pet Dental Health Month

By: Dr. Erin Chamorro

Dental health is an important part of our companion animal’s overall health and wellness. Approximately 70 – 80 percent of dogs and cats exhibit signs of dental disease by the age of 3. Caring for a pet’s teeth early in life can not only decrease pain and prevent tooth loss, but also prolong lifespan and protect from systemic complications of severe dental disease.

Dr. Erin Chamorro
Dr. Erin Chamorro

A comprehensive dental care plan for our companion animals requires cooperation between the owner and their trusted veterinarian. After a thorough physical examination, including an oral examination, a dental care plan can be tailored to each pet’s needs and preferences. This plan may include a combination of at home care (tooth brushing, dental diets, and chews), as well as an anesthetized dental prophylaxis or comprehensive oral assessment. At Auburn University Veterinary Clinic, we would love to partner with you to care for your pet’s oral health and overall well-being.


What is periodontal disease?

Periodontal disease is the inflammation and infection of the soft tissue structures that surround the tooth. Periodontal disease begins as inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and can advance to loss of the supporting bone and soft tissue, resulting in tooth loss. This disease can be very painful for your pet and can cause systemic disease if not treated.

How do we prevent periodontal disease from progressing?

The best way to prevent periodontal disease is through a thorough oral home care plan, especially mechanical removal of plaque (bacterial biofilm) from the teeth with brushes, wipes, etc. In combination with your homecare plan, routine oral examinations are essential to monitor for disease, and to intervene when necessary to prevent progression.

What is involved in home oral health care?

There are a variety of home care techniques. The best, or “gold standard,” is brushing of the teeth. This can be performed with water alone, or with a pet-approved toothpaste. It is never recommended to use human dental products on our companion animal patients, as they may contain foaming agents, sweeteners (xylitol), or fluoride which should not be ingested.  Specially formulated dental chews, dental treats, dental diets, water additives, and enzymatic products are available. The combination of these products that works best for each patient and client is used to keep the oral cavity clean and at a reduced incidence of disease. A great resource for clients interested in homecare products is where a list of accepted dental products can be found. These products have been proven to be effective against plaque or calculus (tartar).

What is a pre-dental examination and why is it necessary?

The pre-dental examination is an essential part in planning for a dental procedure. This begins with an initial physical and oral examination, which allows the veterinarian to gather an idea of your pet’s oral condition and overall health. Depending on each pet’s age and health status, additional testing may be recommended. This testing may include blood and urine analysis and/or thoracic (chest) radiographs for the assessment of internal health and identification of good anesthetic candidates. This is also a valuable opportunity for the client and veterinarian to discuss any disease noted on the examination or diagnostics,  the dental procedure that is recommended, as well as at-home oral health practices.

What is included in the veterinary dental procedure at Auburn University?

As described under “What is a pre-dental examination and why is it necessary?” a veterinary dental procedure begins with an overall patient assessment. Based on this evaluation, the veterinarian will determine what is the best dental procedure for each patient.

There are multiple levels of dental procedure that will be based upon the degree of disease present in each patient’s mouth. A dental prophylaxis is an anesthetized dental examination including mapping of the teeth (probing and charting), scaling and polishing and may be performed on patients with a healthy mouth but mild plaque and calculus. The goal of this procedure is to prevent the development of dental disease and maintain a healthy mouth.

Patients that present for evaluation and have any oral disease require a complete oral assessment and therapy (COHAT). This is an anesthetized complete and thorough oral exam (visual and radiographic) to identify problems above and below the gumline, as well as painful conditions such as fractured teeth and roots, periodontal disease, tooth resorptive lesions, devitalized teeth, and/or abscessed or infected teeth. Intra-oral radiographs are obtained using a small radiograph film, or digital sensor, placed inside the patient’s mouth. They provide superior quality images which can be used along with visual assessment for complete evaluation of the oral cavity.

All tooth surfaces are cleaned using a combination of ultrasonic and hand scaling to remove plaque both above and below the gumline.  Professional polishing of the crowns of the teeth is then performed to smooth microabrasions caused by scaling and to prevent further plaque accumulation. A therapeutic plan is made based on the disease identified and discussed with the client. This plan will be a combination of therapeutic options including: local blocks (numbing), closed and/or open root planing, guided tissue regeneration, dental extraction, and application of dental perioceutics (local antibiotic). If appropriate, fluoride treatment of all remaining, freshly cleaned teeth will be performed to strengthen the tooth enamel.

After recovering from anesthesia, your pet is most often able to go home the same day and return to normal feeding schedules. Your veterinarian will provide a report of findings and procedures, as well as recommended continued care between cleanings.

 Does my pet have to be anesthetized for the dental procedure?

General anesthesia, or “putting a pet to sleep,” is what worries most pet owners. However, when using proper pre-anesthetic assessment (bloodwork, radiographs, etc.) and appropriate medication and monitoring protocols, anesthesia is very safe. Without general anesthesia, we are unable to fully evaluate each patient’s mouth and to clean beneath the gum line where bacteria inhabit and cause disease. This disease can take the form of bad breath, or even extensive damage to the tooth roots and surrounding soft tissue and bony structures. An anesthetized patient is also required for oral radiography, as patients do not cooperate when a sensor is placed within their mouth. General anesthesia also decreases the discomfort and anxiety of the patient during the dental procedure. According to the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC), general anesthesia is essential for any veterinary dental procedure.

What dental services are offered at Auburn University?

At the Auburn University Veterinary Clinic, we provide routine dental prophylaxis, comprehensive oral health assessments, oral radiography, local blocks (numbing), application of dental perioceutics (local antibiotic), closed and/or open root planing, guided tissue regeneration, dental extraction, bonding (sealants), as well as oral mass removal or biopsy and histopathology. It is important to note that although our veterinarians have had advanced education in dental procedures, they are not boarded veterinary dentists. In cases where orthodontics, root canal therapy, or other advanced dental techniques are indicated we would be happy to refer your pet to a Diplomate of the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC).

How do I schedule a pre-dental evaluation and dental procedure for my pet?

At Auburn University Veterinary Clinic, scheduling involves a phone call to our front desk services at (334) 844-9966. The receptionists will schedule two separate appointments for your pet, the first for the pre-dental visit, followed by a second visit for the recommended dental procedure. This procedure should be scheduled within four weeks of the pre-dental evaluation. As mentioned above, the pre-dental visit is crucial to understanding the overall wellness of your pet and whether or not he/she is a good anesthetic candidate, as well as to determine the level of dental procedure needed for your pet. After the pre-dental evaluation, your veterinarian will make recommendations for your pet based on their specific needs to accommodate their dental and overall health. We look forward to meeting you and developing a dental wellness plan custom made for your pet!