VCA South Shore (Weymouth) Animal Hospital


Why Does My Pet Need A Veterinary Dentist?

Just as your own primary care physician may feel the need to refer you to the care of a specialist from time to time, your general practitioner veterinarian may feel your pet needs the additional expertise of a veterinarian with special training and experience in advanced dentistry for certain conditions, such as resorptive lesions, stomatitis, full mouth extractions, and fractured teeth.

It is very important to remember that dental disease is the most common problem to affect small animals of any age. In fact, veterinary experts estimate that up to 80% of dogs and 70% of cats that do not receive proper dental care will develop signs of dental disease by the age of three. For these reasons, it is very important that your pet receives regular dental care and cleanings from your general practitioner veterinarian and, when required, more advanced dental care from a veterinarian with special training in advanced dentistry. (Note: Some veterinarians routinely refer all clients to a veterinarian with special training in dentistry for that aspect of a pet's health care.)

You can be assured that a veterinarian who knows when to refer you and your is one that is caring and committed to ensuring that your pet receives the highest standard of care for his or her problem.

Will My Regular Veterinarian Still Be Involved?

Your regular veterinarian will still supervise your pet's overall veterinary care, and will consult with the veterinary dentist regarding any pre or post treatment care. In general, the veterinarian that treats the problem and reports findings and recommendations back to your general practitioner veterinarian.

Signs That A Pet May Need Dental Care:

  • Bad breath
  • Drooling or excessive salivation
  • Pawing at the teeth or mouth
  • Discoloration or staining of the teeth
  • Visible tartar on the teeth
  • Red, irritated, swollen, or bleeding gums
  • Loose or missing teeth
  • Difficulty eating
  • Discharge from the nose
  • Swelling under the eyes
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Lethargy and loss of vitality

Did You Know?

  • Dogs have 42 permanent teeth while cats have 30.
  • Symptoms of gum disease in dogs and cats include yellow and brown tartar buildup along the gum line, inflamed gums, and bad breath.
  • Smaller breeds of dogs seem to be particularly bothered by dental disease.
  • Dental problems are a common cause of weight loss and loss of appetite in older cats.
  • Braces are available for pets with bite abnormalities that need correction.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Periodontal Disease In Dogs and Cats?

This disease is one of the most common mouth problems of dogs and cats. Periodontal disease is an infection caused by the bacteria found in dental plaque. Unfortunately, bacteria can be present on even healthy looking teeth. Gingivitis, which is another term often mentioned in connection with dental disease, is an inflammation of the gum area that causes reddened and swollen gums. It is a common, visual sign of underlying periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease first occurs when plaque and tartar begin to build up on your pet's teeth. In the beginning, plaque might simply appear to be discoloration or staining on the teeth. Without regular dental examinations and cleanings, however, this plaque builds up and turns into tartar, or calculus. This is the visible material you can sometimes see encrusted on the teeth and along the gum line of a pet's mouth. Tartar can damage the bone in your pet's teeth, as well as the bony socket that holds each tooth in place. It can dig into the gums at the base of your pet's teeth and form pockets, where bacteria can become trapped and cause infections.

This condition is very serious in pets because, if left unchecked, it eventually leads to the destruction of each affected tooth's supporting structures, causing pain, infection, and tooth loss. The infection can also result in bacteria entering the bloodstream and damaging other organs or body systems in your pet, such as the kidney, liver, and heart. It can complicate other underlying diseases, such as diabetes or chronic sinusitis.

Why Is Proper Dental Care for Cats and Dogs So Important?

Imagine what your mouth and teeth would look and feel like if you never brushed them or visited your dentist. That unappealing picture is the same for your pet. Without proper dental care, your pet will most likely suffer from bad breath, inflamed gums, missing, loose, or broken teeth, and all of the pain and discomfort such problems can cause. In addition, veterinary experts have found that dental disease can also lead to systemic health problems in dogs and cats. The good news, however, is that dental disease is easily prevented by following your veterinarian's recommendations regarding dental examinations, home care, and dental cleanings.

How Can Dental Disease in Pets Be Treated?

The best answer is with prevention. Starting at the age of one year, your pet should have an annual dental examination and cleaning. While the damage caused by periodontal disease is generally irreversible, it can be stopped and treated with antibiotics and regular cleaning. In between your pet's examination, you should follow your veterinarian's advice regarding home dental care for your pet, including daily tooth cleanings and special dental care diets and treats. There are several stages of periodontal disease. The first stages can be treated with cleanings, medications, and scalings. At the later stages, surgery is necessary to treat the affected teeth.

Why Is A Dental Cleaning Important for My Pet?

A thorough cleaning removes plaque and tartar both above and below the gum line. This is necessary to prevent periodontal disease and all the associated health problems that we have outlined above. While dental cleanings may seem like an added expense, they are actually a very cost effective investment in your pet's continued good health. Caught early, dental problems are easy to treat. Neglected, they can turn into serious and painful problems.

Does My Pet Really Need to Be Anesthetized?

While the quality of dental care we can now offer to pets is very similar to what humans enjoy, there is one important difference: you can't explain to your pet what is happening and why. For that reason, pets must be anesthetized for anything other than the most cursory of examinations. In order to perform a thorough checkup, your veterinarian or trained veterinary dental technician needs to be able to visualize all your pet's teeth'"even those in the back of his or her mouth'"and be able to access the entire mouth with instruments during the cleaning procedure. For more complicated procedures, such as tooth extractions, oral surgery, and root canal, it is essential.

Is the Veterinary Anesthesia Safe?

While there is always a slight risk when using anesthesia on a pet, or even a person for that matter, today's veterinary anesthetic agents are extremely safe. To further maximize your pet's safety, your veterinary team will recommend preanesthetic testing to make sure there are no hidden health problems that could compromise your pet's ability to undergo the procedure. In addition, your pet will be monitored while under the anesthesia and during recovery. The risk of disease from dental problems is far greater than any risks presented by the anesthesia. Owners are often especially concerned about anesthetizing older pets. However, many dental problems can be extremely painful as well as contribute to the development of systemic disease. With pets today living longer and longer, owners must weigh, in consultation with their veterinarian, the risks and benefits of allowing an older pet to possibly live years with a painful condition.

Why Does My Pet Need Radiographs for a Dental Exam?

Dental x-rays are becoming the standard of care for pet dentistry, just as they are in human dentistry. Without radiographs, or x-rays, it is impossible for the veterinary dentist to detect problems below the gum line or within the tooth itself. Radiographs are necessary before deciding on a course of therapy in order to help determine, for example, how extensive a tooth fracture is.

What Is A Feline Resorptive Lesion (FRL)?

Sometimes called cat cavities, neck lesions, or cervical line lesions, these are painful lesions that most commonly affect the lower premolars in a cat's mouth. Cats with FRLs may salivate excessively, bleed from the gums, and have difficulty eating. Keep in mind that a majority of affected cats, however, do not show any outward signs of having one of these painful lesions. When suspected, radiographs are essential to determine if the lesions have entered the pulp chamber of the tooth. In that case, either root canal therapy or extraction would be required.

What Do I Do About Broken Teeth?

Broken teeth in pets, especially in dogs, are common, either as a result of chewing on something hard, or from trauma, such as being hit by a car. Broken teeth need to be treated. Just as in people, a broken tooth or one with a fracture exposes the nerves and blood vessels inside the tooth (the pulp) to the outside air and to infection. This can be extremely painful for pets, and leaving a broken tooth in place untreated is not an option because it can lead to chronic infection, abscess formation, and loosening or loss of secondary teeth.

There are two treatment options: extraction, or root canal. Performing a root canal will save what is left of the broken tooth by cleaning out the pulp inside and filling it with an inert material so that it cannot become reinfected'"the same process as in humans. Where root canal is not an option, the tooth should be extracted. In this case, your veterinary team will recommend medications to help reduce pain and maximize healing.

What Are Good Home Care Tips?

• The easiest way to introduce a pet to home dental cleanings is to start when it is a puppy or kitten. It is important for youngsters to learn to allow you to examine their mouths, both for dental cleanings and to administer medications if need be. Even if your pet is older, however, it can still be trained to accept a home dental cleaning by being patient and consistent with your efforts.
• If your pet does not like to have his or her mouth touched, start with very small steps. Start with touching one tooth at first each day, and then very gradually, over a period of days, weeks, or even months, work toward getting your pet to allow you to brush its entire mouth.
• If your pet seems afraid of a pet toothbrush, try using a finger brush or even a piece of gauze wrapped over a finger at first.
• Make sure you only use toothpaste made specifically for pets. Pet toothpaste tastes good to pets and, most importantly, will not lead to upset stomachs.
• If your pet will not safely tolerate your putting your hands in its mouth, don't risk being bitten. Inform your veterinarian and he or she will schedule more frequent dental cleanings as necessary or provide you with other training advice.
• Ask your veterinarian for recommendations regarding special dental care diets and treats that will help you and your pet fight plaque buildup in between cleanings.
• And remember, the best homecare tip is to start early while pets are young by making home dental cleanings part of your regular daily grooming routine.

Do you think your pet needs a specialist in veterinary dentistry? Talk to your veterinarian or find a VCA board certified veterinary dentist near you.


Services Offered in Dentistry

Veterinarians in Dentistry


General Practice

We have over 600 animal hospitals in 41 states and 4 Canadian provinces that are staffed by more than 3,000 fully-qualified, dedicated and compassionate veterinarians, with more than 400 being board-certified specialists.

The nationwide VCA family of general practice hospitals give your pet the very best in medical care, providing a full range of general medical and surgical services as well as specialized treatments such as wellness, spay/neuter, advanced diagnostic services (MRI/CT Scan), internal medicine, oncology, ophthalmology, dermatology, cardiology, neurology, boarding, and grooming. Services may vary by location.

Our family of pet hospitals stands out by delivering the greatest resources in order provide the highest quality care available for your pets. By maintaining the highest standards of pet health care available anywhere, we emphasize prevention as well as healing. We provide continuing education programs to our doctors and staff and promote the open exchange of professional knowledge and expertise. And finally, we have established a consistent program of procedures and techniques, proven to be the most effective in keeping pets healthy.

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Emergency Care

In case of emergency, please call us immediately or come right in. We are available and have doctors and technicians in the building waiting to help you and your pet 24 hours a day.

As pet parents ourselves, we understand when there is a concern about your pet, waiting can be excruciating. That is why we are here for you 24 hours a day. There is no question, concern, or problem too small so don't hesitate to contact us or come right in!

*Please note that between the hours of 9pm and 7am, our front doors are locked for security. Please ring the door bell and a staff member will come to the door and assist you.