Many general practice veterinarians can perform routine dental work, such as cleaning to remove tartar buildup and extraction of infected teeth.
However, if your dog has something unusual or more serious in the mouth, such as deep gum disease (peridontitis), tooth or jaw malformations, jaw fractures, or oral tumors, your veterinarian may refer you to a dental specialist who has advanced training and equipment, according to Sandra Manfra, DVM, chief of small animal surgery and a dental specialist at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana.
Veterinary dental specialists are trained to recognize and treat dental problems that are uncommon or difficult to diagnose. Since they work specifically with dentistry, specialists also have advanced specialized equipment, such as dental X-ray machines and high-speed dental units. Manfra says that the most common dental referrals at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital involve gum disease, jaw fractures, broken teeth, malocclusions, and oral tumors.
When gums are badly infected, deep cleaning below the gum line is required, and dental specialists have experience opening and cleaning the deep pockets of the gums. For complicated tooth extractions, your veterinarian may refer you to a dental specialist, since specialized equipment may help in the removal of large, multi-rooted teeth. Dental specialists may also be called upon to repair jaw fractures, a common result of car accidents and other traumatic injuries.
Teeth that grow improperly can affect an animal’s health and ability to eat, so veterinary dentists may also perform orthodontic work. Just like dentists who work with human teeth, veterinary dentists perform root canals and crowns, especially for animals that need their teeth to perform, such as police dogs and hunting retrievers.
Veterinary dentists have the equipment and training to diagnose unusual lesions in the mouth that may result from systemic health problems or oral cancer. They work with specialists, including oncologists, internists, and anesthesiologists, who can help with diagnosis and treatment since dental disease can be directly linked to other diseases, such as lung, heart, and kidney disease, and since patients who are geriatric, diabetic, or immunocompromised need special monitoring during dental treatment.
Veterinary dentistry is definitely a growing field, says Manfra, pointing to the direct connection between dental health and overall pet health.
For more information about the veterinary specialty, or to locate dental specialists near you, visit the website of the American Veterinary Dental College.
– University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine