When Should I See An Animal Dentist? No. 20


Centers for Oral Care
New England & New York
Animal Dental Health Services
No. 20~ 23February2017
DH DeForge, VMD
Fellow of the Academy of Veterinary Dentistry


When Should I See An Animal Dentist?



Do you remember taking your child to the dentist for the first time?  It may have been a lark or it may have been a catastrophe but it will always be a loving memory.

What about your first visit to an animal dentist.  Maybe you have never met an animal dentist;  do not know who they are; or why you would ever need to visit an animal dentist.  Read on!

Most veterinarians are highly trained in routine oral care.  They perform teeth cleanings and help treat the earliest form of Periodontal Disease called GINGIVITIS.  Years ago before veterinary dentists entered the theater of oral care if a veterinarian did not know the cause of a tooth problem and……… because that general practitioner did not have dental x-ray………. all “abnormal” teeth were extracted. 

Today, veterinary dentists applaud the veterinary general practice doctor who has taken the time to take continuing education courses in the routine oral care of their patients and have brought dental x-ray to their hospital.  The animal dentist and the general practice doctor have become a strong team in the New Millennium!

Yes, times have changed with the advent of modern animal dentistry.  There are now veterinary dentists available to help companions who suffer from a plethora of oral problems. The question to ponder is when should you seek out an animal dentist?

A Good Question:

That is a good question.  First and foremost, you should speak with your local doctor of veterinary medicine who will guide you in this referral.  Most general veterinary practitioners are educated and trained to treat early forms of gum disease. Some take extra training to learn the skills required to treat more advanced forms of disease. Animal dentists work hand in hand with general veterinary doctors to diagnose and manage periodontal and other dental problems as part of a multi-team one-medicine approach.

  Let us take a simple example: diseases of the gums in companion animals.  Early “gum-disease” is most often treated by general practice veterinary doctors.  Advanced  “gum disease is, commonly, referred to an animal dentist.

Let us look at the human model.  When a human general dentist sees that the “gum-disease” they are treating is not responding they call in a periodontist!  Why a periodontist?  Let us look at the word periodontist (“peri” – means around; “odont” – means tooth)  A Periodontist is a dentist who specializes in the treatment of abnormal bone and connective tissues that surround and support your teeth!

Animal dentistry has not broken up into the many sub- specialties found in human dentistry.  One of the roles that animal dentists have taken on is the role of “animal periodontist”!  They have become an advanced alternative in the diagnosis and treatment of all disorders and diseases of the supporting structures of the teeth.

 Periodontal (gum) disease is a broad term for a group of different diseases, all of which have the same outcome: loss of attachment of the gingiva and mucosa, connective tissue, and bone to the teeth.

 It is described as the Periodontal Attachment Apparatus. The "attachment apparatus," refers to the cementum, periodontal ligament, and alveolar bone that attaches the tooth to the bone.  Most periodontal diseases are caused by the bacterial biofilm that collects around the teeth from ineffective oral hygiene coupled with a defective immune system.

Today, animal periodontal medicine encompasses how periodontal disease and systemic (general body) disease impact each other. Recent studies have reported that almost fifty percent of companion animals over four years of age suffer from some form of periodontal disease.





How Do You Know Your Pet Has Periodontal (Gum) Disease?

Early warning signs may be slight bleeding when you brush your pet’s teeth; slight redness and inflammation of the gum margins; and bad breath.  Your pet may be avoiding treats that are hard; or only will eat canned or table food; and refuses dry dog food. Later symptoms and consequences that you will recognize include abscesses, loose or moving teeth, and ultimately tooth loss.  All of these can cause pain to your pet!

The treatment of the different forms of periodontal diseases depends upon their cause. Accurate diagnosis begins with a comprehensive periodontal oral health assessment and evaluation with dental x-rays by the animal dentist!

Most early to moderate periodontal diseases have one common treatment objective:  Instructing the pet owner in achieving optimum daily biofilm removal and (plaque) control.  This is achieved with a selective form of professional care coupled with a homecare anti-plaque program that is unique to the pet being treated.  Your pet receives a thorough professional teeth cleaning — known as scaling and root planing or root debridement.  Moderate to advanced disease may require surgical periodontal  treatment.

If you have a periodontal concern, a good place to start is by talking to your general animal doctor or family veterinarian who will refer you to an animal dentist if they feel that your condition warrants it; or if your treatment needs are beyond the scope of that particular general practice animal doctor. Any general veterinary doctor who treats periodontal gum disease must treat to the same standards as an animal dentist; therefore if you are accepted for treatment, you should be in good hands.

If you have already seen a general practice veterinary doctor and you would like a second opinion;  you should seek the animal dentist of your choice or ask for a referral from your family veterinarian.  It is helpful if you have your previous dental and medical records available for the animal dentist.  It is always best for your regular doctor of veterinary medicine to work as a team with the animal dentist.

If you are concerned that you may have advanced periodontal disease or you already have periodontal disease coupled with systemic disease such as diabetes; kidney disease; liver disease; hypertension; or cardiovascular [heart] disease, you may consider seeing an animal dentist immediately.

Other Reasons to Seek Out An Animal Dentist:

Jaw fractures

Oral Pain

Broken Teeth that need Root Canals

Cats and Dog with Oral Ulcers

Tumors or Growths in the Mouth

Stomatitis Disease in Cats

Difficult Extractions-especially in toy and small breeds

Boxers with overgrowth of gum tissue

Cats and dogs with cavities

Occlusion Problems

The animal dentist wears “many hats” and has been trained to perform procedures in all intradisciplines of dentistry.  Talk to your general doctor and get their input and advice on a referral to an animal dentist about any of the above problems.  Never let a pet live in pain!  When seeking out an animal dentist “hope is on the way” for a pain free quality of  life.


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