The Dental Exam
The dental exam is a very important part of your pet’s annual check-up. Be sure to tell your veterinarian about any changes in eating behavior, drooling, odor, pawing at the mouth, dropping food or reluctance to eat. Your veterinarian will perform a dental exam by looking at the head and neck, teeth, gums, tongue and back of the throat. The face is inspected for signs of swelling, discomfort or drooling. Any foul odor coming from the mouth is noted. Many dogs will allow at least this brief inspection of the mouth without sedation to determine if there is a need for a more detailed exam requiring sedation. If excessive plaque or tarter, gingivitis, cracked teeth, tooth root exposure or oral growths are noted, your veterinarian will most likely recommend a full dental examination and cleaning which requires anesthesia.
If anesthesia is needed, a pre-anesthetic blood screen is often performed to make sure your dog is healthy. Once under anesthesia your dog may have dental x-rays performed. This allows your vet to screen for tooth root infections/abscesses, under-the-gum cysts, retained roots from previous tooth loss, jaw bone loss and even early detection of cancer. Many of these conditions require intervention even when the tooth is not visibly diseased on the top (crown portion). Next, the teeth are cleared of any tartar or calculus buildup to allow visualization of the junction of the tooth and gum line. A dental probe is placed under the gum to measure how much attachment has been lost to periodontal disease. This space under the gum can also be cleaned deeply with a sedated animal allowing some reattachment, restoring health to that tooth. If your dog has crowded teeth or retained baby teeth, removal may be needed. Tooth fractures involving the pulp cavity often require extraction.
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Veterinary Technical Services Department