What’s Inside that Mouth? Dental Cleanings are About More than Just Cleaning the Teeth!


Author: Dr. Clarissa G. Noureddine, DVM, MS, MS

Every November, Lawndale Veterinary Hospital offers 20% off dental cleanings. Why do we do this? For one thing, it’s one of the many ways we try and show our clients how thankful we are for your patronage (especially during a month that is focused on thankfulness!). On another level, it’s our way of sending a signal to show how important we believe professional dental cleanings are for overall pet health and well-being.

Now, before you realize this blog is about dental health and decide you’ve already heard it all before, hang with us for a moment more – because this blog is taking the importance of dental cleanings down a bit of a different path. Yes, dental care is an incredibly important part of your dog’s health. From home dental care (FYI there are tons of options here!) to professional dental cleanings, the number of options available conveys the importance of this topic. But have you ever thought about the other benefits of having your pet’s teeth cleaned under anesthesia? Those benefits are centered on the idea of a very thorough oral examination. Let’s be honest, there are not a lot of dogs and cats out there who will allow an extended mouth inspection during an awake physical examination. In fact, most patients seem to dislike having their mouths examined. But it’s important to be able to examine the inside of the mouth to identify any problem areas or concerns.

So while dental cleanings definitely provide an opportunity to scrape that tartar off and get those pearly whites shined up, they are about so much more than making the teeth look pretty. When a patient is under anesthesia to have the teeth cleaned, the veterinarian can take the time to carefully and thoroughly examine all aspects of the inside of the mouth.

Here are some examples of problems our veterinarians are looking for during a dental cleaning under anesthesia:

  • Gingivitis and Stomatitis (Dogs, Cats): Gingivitis is inflammation of the gum tissue around the teeth. It is the first stage of periodontal disease. Stomatitis refers to inflammation that can develop in other areas of the mouth. These conditions can cause pain!
  • Periodontal Disease (Dogs, Cats): This term refers to the inflammation, infection, pain, and structural loss that can occur in structures around the tooth as dental disease progresses. This is a serious condition that should definitely be addressed if it develops in your pet. The American Veterinary Dental College has a great handout with photos to illustrate the progression from Stage 0 to Stage 5 of this condition.
  • Gingival hyperplasia: Excessive growth of the gingival tissues that creates pockets where food and debris can get trapped. A biopsy of the area can help determine if the condition is gingival hyperplasia or an oral mass.
  • Tooth resorption: (CatsDogs) This is one of the more common abnormalities that we can see in cats especially. As the tooth starts to be resorbed, the lesions can be painful. Extraction of the tooth (or teeth) is often necessary.
  • Tooth root abscess: (Dogs, Cats) When infection extends into the root of a tooth, an abscess can develop. This causes pain and discomfort. Oral antibiotics alone do not typically fix this problem completely. If an owner is interested in seeing a veterinary dentist, a root canal may be possible. Otherwise, the tooth can be extracted to remove the problem.
  • Tooth fractures: Fractures can occur from things like trauma or heavy chewing of hard items. When fractures occur, a thorough oral exam and dental x-rays can help determine the best course of treatment.
  • Loose teeth: Teeth that are loose may very well need to be removed. During a dental cleaning, we can also explore what might have caused the teeth to be loose in the first place (infection, periodontal disease, oral mass, etc.)
  • Elongated soft palate: Some pets, especially ‘brachycephalic breeds’ (think pugs, bull dogs, etc.) may have elongated soft palates that ultimately could affect their breathing. The reason for this is that when the soft palate is elongated, it can block airflow into the trachea. Under anesthesia, we can evaluate the features of the soft palate to understand if the pet may be suffering from any problems. Learn more about brachycephalic airway syndrome here: Dogs, Cats
  • Missing teeth: Sometimes teeth are missing because they have been previously extracted. Sometimes animals just never developed a tooth. But sometimes teeth are present under the gum line but for whatever reason don’t ever erupt as the pet grows up. If this is the case, then damage to the surrounding tooth roots could occur, so it’s important to understand whether a tooth might be present under the gum line.
  • Oral masses or concerning pigment changes: Any mass in the mouth should be biopsied so that we can fully understand what type of problem we need to work through. In addition to being able to biopsy an oral mass under anesthesia, we can also get a much better idea of how extensive the mass may be. Dogs can also develop benign oral papillomas. Often these are cauliflower-like in appearance.
  • Bite problems (malocclusion) or Tooth crowding: (Dogs, Cats) Many patients have something like an underbite or tooth crowding condition, yet they never develop problems. It’s important to inspect the mouths in these patients over time to make sure there is not unusual tooth wear or soft tissue damage from the teeth bumping in the wrong areas. If problems are occurring, actions should be taken to address the bite or tooth crowding problem(s).
  • Oro-Nasal Fistula: This is a communication between the oral and nasal cavity. As you can imagine, food, hair, etc. can get trapped in these fistulas creating inflammation and problems for the patient.
  • Oral wounds: Of course, with wounds inside of the mouth, we likely already have some suspicion of the problem. An examination under anesthesia will help us further understand how extensive the problem is and what course of treatment would be best.

Is it time to have your pet’s mouth examined and teeth cleaned? Then give us a call to schedule your cleaning during our dental special month!

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