Dental Health

One of the most common problems we encounter in our pets is dental disease. Bad teeth, left untreated, can cause pain and infection in our dogs and cats. This can be mild, or serious, and may affect your pet’s overall health. As part of our preventive health care, we do a thorough oral examination whenever possible, and may recommend brushing, dental treats, and/or a dental cleaning in the clinic. We carry certain products which can assist in pet oral health.

Just like humans, our dogs and cats can benefit immensely from regular professional examinations and cleanings at our hospital. Just what exactly does that entail? Read below to find out!

It’s Not Just a Cleaning, It’s a COHAT!

What exactly is a COHAT, you ask? It is an acronym coined by Veterinary Dentists that stands for “Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment and Treatment”. This starts with a thorough patient history including a review of diet, chewing habits, and home care strategies currently in place, and as thorough an oral examination as the patient will allow in the examination room. This can allow us to find early signs of dental disease, and develop a problem list.

Once a problem is identified, together with illustrative tools such as models and diagrams, our doctors will describe any current oral disease processes, and develop a treatment plan.

A “dentistry” at Westbridge Veterinary Hospital is a complete oral examination under anesthesia. It is performed not only to clean the teeth, but also to evaluate the oral cavity for any other problems that might be present. What we can’t see is more important than what we can. This is why, “non-anesthetic” cleaning is NOT a viable option. At our hospital every pet receives the following care to give our patients the maximum benefits:

  1. Prior to any procedure a full physical examination is performed to ensure your pet is in good health. Note that the age of the patient is not a factor in preventing good dental care.
  2. Once your pet is sedated we thoroughly evaluate the “bite” (the dental occlusion). This is how the teeth are aligned. Malalignment can cause pain and tooth loss if teeth are impacting each other inappropriately.
  3. Before the prophylaxis can begin, the patient must be placed under general anesthetic. This will greatly increase patient comfort and effectiveness of cleaning. In addition, it allows us to properly protect the lungs from the bacteria that is being removed from the teeth by placing an endotracheal tube.
  4. Once your pet is anesthetized, a detailed oral examination is performed. All hard and soft tissues of the oral cavity and are examined and findings accurately recorded in the patient file.
  5. Whole mouth intra-oral dental radiographs are taken at this point. All dental patients require whole mouth intra-oral dental radiographs to allow assessment of the teeth and surrounding bone. Did you know that 60% or more of each tooth is hidden from view? Dental radiographs are required to provide optimal dental care for this reason.
  6. The mouth is flushed with an antibacterial solution.
  7. Dental calculus (tartar) is removed using a ultrasonic scaler.
  8. The soft tissues at several points around every tooth are probed and abnormal depths are recorded on the dental chart.
  9. Crowns (the tooth surface above the gum line) are examined and explored for damage (abrasive wear, fractures, discolouration) and findings recorded on the chart.
  10. Following the more detailed clinical and radiographic examination, the treatment plan is created by the veterinarian. New findings and treatment options are communicated to the owner to obtain informed consent if extractions or other work by the veterinarian is needed.
  11. All teeth are hand scaled above and below the gum line to remove any remaining mineralized deposits (calculus, tartar).
  12. Teeth are polished above and below the gum line. This smoothes the surface of the tooth, slowing new accumulation of plaque and tartar.
  13. The oral cavity and gingival sulci (area of the gums that surrounds the teeth) is flushed to remove all debris.
  14. Your pet is then recovered in a warm and comfortable environment and will be ready to go home later that evening.
  15. We book your pet’s next COHAT. For cats and small/toy breed dogs we recommend every 6-8 months, and every 12-24 months for larger breed dogs.

Just think…

Most of us brush our teeth on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times, and STILL end up with various dental diseases such as cavities. It is not surprising that our pets share many of the same issues, often multiplied.

From reading the above description of a COHAT, there are two things that should be immediately evident:

  1. It is a detailed and precise procedure that takes an appreciable amount of time, and
  2. The oral care that we provide to our patients parallels in many ways the care that we receive from our dentists, and many procedures such as the scale and polishing are identical.


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Digital Dental Radiography

As mentioned above, digital dental radiography is an asset to a complete oral health examination. Below are some examples of where dental radiography has helped our patients, and a more detailed description of its benefits.

  1. Crown: the part of the tooth in the black portion of the image, which represents the part of the tooth that is visible in the mouth.
  2. Enamel: enamel is the hardest substance in the body, and envelops and protects the inner portions of a tooth.
  3. Dentin: a mineralized substance which makes up the bulk of a tooth, and serves to protect the pulp cavity (see below for definition).
  4. Pulp Cavity: seen as the darker gray line in the dentin, this is the central cavity of a tooth containing the pulp, including the root canal,, containing blood vessels and nerves allowing a fresh supply of nutrients and blood for each tooth.
  5. Periodontal Ligament: seen as a black line surrounding the root of the tooth, this is a group of specialized connective tissue fibers that attach a tooth to the alveolar bone within which it sits. These fibers help the tooth withstand the substantial compressive forces which occur during chewing and keep the tooth embedded in the bone.
  6. Alveolar Bone: this is a thickened layer of bone lining containing the tooth sockets on bones that bear teeth.

Disease can affect each complex part of the tooth listed above, either alone or in combination. Without radiographs, we are only seeing and diagnosing disease in the enamel and partially the crown.

Compare the image on the left, a dental radiograph, with the image on the right, an actual photograph of the same tooth after extraction. Note that the tooth was cut in half to facilitate easier extraction. This is a great example of the fine detail that can be obtained with dental radiography. Take a look at the picture below.

This is a photograph of the same tooth, still intact in the mandible, prior to extraction. Note that visually, above the gum line there are no abnormalities and the tooth would otherwise appear to be vital. This is a great display of the importance in dental radiography, as left untreated, this was a very painful tooth.

CLICK HERE for more on digital dental radiography.