5 Things Vets Look For During Dog Dental Exams

Published: 8/31/2021

Does your dog have an upcoming dental exam? If so, good! Oral hygiene is just as important for our furry friends as it is for us pet parents. Poor oral hygiene in dogs can cause infections and dental diseases — for this reason, most vets recommend yearly dental exams starting at 6 months old.

Since dental exams are performed under anesthesia, most pet parents never see what happens during these vet visits. We’ll give you a sneak peek into what goes on during veterinary dental exams and explain what vets look for when examining your pup's chompers.


What do vets look for during dog dental exams?

There are several conditions vets look for during dental exams. Here are the 5 main ones.


#1. Signs of dental diseases

Signs of dental disease are one of the main things vets look for when performing a dog dental exam; this is because 1 in 8 dogs over 3 years old have periodontal disease. Dental diseases result from plaque and tartar buildup under the gum line and can lead to tooth loss and decay.


#2. Infections and abscesses

Infections and abscesses are a big concern when it comes to canine oral health. If left untreated, infections and abscesses can spread to the blood or even to the brain, which can be life-threatening.


#3. Cysts and tumors

Vets will typically take x-rays and visually inspect the mouth for the presence of oral tumors and cysts. Oral cysts are quite common in dogs. If untreated, they can destroy the teeth and weaken the bone.

Oral tumors aren’t quite as common, but they can pose a significant threat to dogs if they are cancerous. Typically, vets will take a needle aspirate of the area to determine whether tumors are benign or cancerous.


#4. Broken and fractured teeth

Broken teeth result in infections and abscesses and need to be dealt with right away. For this reason, vets will perform an oral inspection to determine if there are any breaks or fractures in the teeth. Depending on the condition of the tooth, the vet may pull it or do a root canal.


#5. Loose teeth

Vets will also inspect the mouth for loose teeth, which can be a sign that other problems are at play. Loose teeth are a primary symptom of periodontal disease and jaw cancer, so it’s essential vets identify and investigate the root cause of loose teeth.


What happens during a dental exam?

Dog dental exams are broken down into several parts:

  • pre-anesthetic exams
  • oral examinations
  • anesthesia monitoring
  • x-rays
  • dental cleanings

Before the day of the dental exam, vets will usually perform a pre-anesthetic exam to make sure the dog is healthy enough to undergo anesthesia. After the vet clears the dog for anesthesia, they're ready for their dental exam. The vet will start by performing a visual exam on the dog before administering anesthesia. 

Once the pet is unconscious, the vet will monitor their vital signs for any changes that may signal problems with the anesthesia. If the dog is stable, the vet team will start the dental exam by taking radiographs. Radiographs, also known as x-rays, help vets see the portion of the tooth under the gum surface to determine if the teeth are healthy.

Next comes the scaling and the polishing portion of the procedure. Vets will use dental tools similar to those used on humans to remove the built-up tartar and polish scratches on the teeth. Lastly, the vet will apply fluoride and sealant treatments to keep the plaque buildup at bay.


Signs your dog needs a dental exam

While pets should be getting a dental exam every year, there are some signs that your dog should be seen sooner than later. These include: 

Remember to brush your pup’s teeth regularly and have their chompers checked out yearly by a vet. If there's ever any question of whether your pet needs a dental exam, take them to the vet. It’s better to err on the side of caution since teeth and gum problems can quickly progress into infections and dental diseases.

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