Small Animal Dentistry

Dentistry is a rapidly growing area of veterinary science. More and more we are understanding the significant effect dental health can have on the overall health of the animals we treat.

Just like humans, pets’ teeth need looking after too! The health of their teeth and gums has a significant impact on their overall quality of life. Imagine how your mouth would feel, and smell, if you never brushed your teeth. Imagine having a really bad toothache and not being able to tell anyone about it!

Dental disease typically begins with a build-up of plaque, consisting of bacteria, food particles and saliva components, on the teeth. Plaque sticks to the tooth surface above and below the gum line and if not removed will calcify into tartar (also known as calculus). This appears as a yellow-brown material on the teeth. Over time the plaque and tartar can result in periodontal disease, which results can result in irreversible changes to the teeth and supportive structures.

Periodontal disease can result in local problems, such as red and inflamed gums, bad breath, and the loss of teeth. There is also growing evidence that periodontal disease can be associated with disease in distant organs, including the heart, liver and kidneys. Ultimately, dental disease is more than just a cosmetic issue – it can be a cause of significant illness and pain in dogs and cats.

Common signs of dental disease include:

  • Yellow-brown tartar around the gum line
  • Inflamed, red gums
  • Bad breath
  • Change in eating or chewing habits (especially in cats)
  • Pawing at the face or mouth
  • Excessive drooling
  • Pain or bleeding when you touch the gums or mouth

If your pet is showing any of these signs of dental disease please book an appointment to see one of our veterinarians. Early assessment and action can save your pet’s teeth!

Some animals with dental disease may show no obvious signs particularly in the early stages. It is also important to remember that just because your pet is eating, it doesn’t mean they do not have dental pain.

How can I prevent dental disease?

Long-term control and prevention of dental disease requires regular home care. The best way to begin this is to acclimatise your pet from a young age. Dental home care may include:

Brushing Teeth Daily

Just like us! This is the best form of dental hygiene. Pet toothbrushes and toothpaste are now available. Please do not use human toothpaste formulas as they are not designed to be swallowed and may be toxic to your pet.

Teeth Friendly Chews and Toys

Use dental toys, dental chews (such as Whimzees), or dried kangaroo tendons and ox-tongue may also help keep the teeth clean. If you would like to feed your pet raw meaty bones, please discuss this with us so that we can advise you on the best way to do this safely, as bones do carry with them significant risks.

Dental Supplements

Seaweed-based food additives (Plaque-Off) and water additives such as Oxyfresh are convenient ways of minimising plaque accumulation after a dental procedure. They generally work best alongside brushing or dental chews, but are a convenient way of attending to your pet's dental health.

As with most things in life, when it comes to dental disease, prevention is definitely better than cure. Regular and frequent attention to your pet's teeth may avoid the need for a professional dental clean under anaesthetic, and will also improve your pet's overall health.




What does a professional dental clean involve?

It is similar to a scale and polish done by a dentist for us, however, unlike us, our pets won’t sit still or open their mouth to allow for a comprehensive examination or cleaning of their teeth. For this reason our pets need to have a general anaesthetic for a professional dental assessment and clean. The degree of dental disease will be assessed by oral radiographs and manual examination to determine what type of treatment is required. If extractions are required, we may elect to perform these as a separate procedure to limit anaesthetic time and facilitate more accurate estimation of costs.

The assessment will also include a physical exam, and possibly blood tests and urine tests to ensure they are healthy prior to having an anaesthetic. Once anaesthetised, we can give the teeth a thorough cleaning using our specialised dental equipment. When your pet goes home we will also discuss methods of reducing dental disease in the future.

If you have any questions about dental care or professional cleaning please do not hesitate to contact us.




Dental Radiography

Radiographs, or X-rays, are an integral part of your pet's dental assessment. They enable us to assess parts of the tooth and jaw that are not otherwise accessible. 

Dental radiograph of the molars and premolars of Ebony, one of our clinic pets

How we do it

If you've had X-rays done at a human dentist, it's pretty quick and simple, right? You stand here, bite down on a mouthpiece, and wait! For our pets, it's not quite as simple. For starters, if you put something in my dog's mouth, it would be destroyed in a matter of seconds. And there's no way he'd be still whilst this was happening. 

This means we need to perform dental radiology under general anaesthesia, so that we can position the pet and the plate to obtain the most diagnostic images. 

We take full mouth radiographs to get an understanding of the overall health of the teeth, periodontal tissues and jaw. This requires first  positioning the pet on its back and then on its front, and in each position, getting images of each segment of the jaw (usually - the left side, the front-on view, and the right side). We may perform extra views if we see pathology in any of these.

We use AI to assess our dental radiographs! We're pretty good at reading our own, but it's nice to have backup and verification. Occasionally, it may alert us to something we might have otherwise ignored! Then we get to decide whether it's worth pursuing or not. 

 A report generated by SignalSMILE on one of our pet's dental radiographs

Why do we need dental radiographs?

Dental radiographs allow us to:

  • Detecting dental disease early
  • Identify dental problems that are not visible to the naked eye
  • Guide dental procedures, and
  • Monitor the progress of dental treatments

Dental radiographs may show us how a tooth that looks and feels completely solid from the outside can be loose and painful. Or, that a fractured tooth that looks like it might need to come out can actually be saved! 

Is it safe?

At Nelson Bay Vet we use the iM3 Portable Digital X-ray. Modern digital radiography equipment and techniques are safe for pets and expose them to minimal radiation. As the human operators, we will wear personal protective equipment due to the frequency with which we perform these procedures.