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What Is a Veterinary Dentistry Specialist?


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Most people, when going to the dentist, will lie and say, "Yes, I floss every day....Yes, I brush twice a day...No, I never eat sugar." We don't want the lecture on how neglecting to care for our teeth can affect our overall health.

Just like humans, a pet's dental health needs to be taken into consideration. Unfortunately, it's not something we often do think about. Without caring for your pet's teeth and gums, they could later go on to have life-threatening heart conditions and kidney or liver disease. So how does one go about caring for their pet's oral health? It's actually quite simple.

Education of Veterinarians

The American Animal Dentist College was founded in 1988 by eight veterinarians who specialized in animal dentistry. They recognized the need for a formal training system for those hoping to become animal dentists. The first dental residency program for students was formed the following year. Today, there are twenty schools nationwide that teach budding animal dentists.

Veterinarians who choose to enter the animal dentistry specialty must attend a full Master's program in Veterinary Medicine. However, after their studies for this degree are finished, they must enter into a residency program of dentistry. This means they will continue for another two years or so studying specifically on how to treat oral health issues in all sorts of animals.

Treatments Offered

There are two separate categories in the dentistry programs: non-equine and equine. As the names suggest, equine dentistry is the specific study on how to care for equine oral health. Non-equine studies fall under the category of every other animal, including other livestock and exotic animals. All students who plan to get their degree in this specialty must go through an examination and certification by the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDA). Once these are passed, the student can then begin practicing veterinary dentistry.

Most general practice veterinary clinics offer dentistry, luckily, as it is such an important aspect of your pet's health. However, there are clinics set up specifically for dentistry all over the country. When you go for a check-up, most vets will do a quick scan of the gums and teeth to see if there is anything to be concerned about.

Why Should My Pet See A Veterinary Dentistry Specialist?

As a pet owner, you should be aware of the signs that something is off with your pet's oral health. You should make an appointment to see a veterinary dentist if your pet has any symptoms such as:

  • Extremely odorous breath
  • Loose or discolored teeth
  • Excessive drooling
  • Bleeding gums or other areas of the mouth
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Your pet won't let you touch their mouth
  • Dropping food

These could all be signs of health issues such as periodontal disease, infection, tooth decay, and much more.

Periodontal disease is one of the most common animal oral health issues. If you do have to see a veterinary dentistry specialist, this will most likely be the reason. Just like humans, there can be a build-up of tartar and plaque on the teeth and gums. Luckily for us, we can floss and brush every day to get rid of that for a white smile.

Without opposable thumbs, it's not so easy for Fido. Without a healthy diet, something to chew on, and check-ups, it's easy to let this condition get out of hand. If left untreated, your pet can lose teeth, or even worse -- develop more serious illnesses such as diabetes, heart and lung disease, kidney problems, and even cancer.

Available Treatments: Non-Equine Species

So, what can you expect if you do need to go to a veterinary dentistry clinic? Well, other than regular exams, cleanings, and check-ups, most veterinary dentists are specially trained and qualified to perform complex dental procedures such as:

  • Oral surgery
  • Restorations
  • Orthodontics
  • Periodontics
  • Dental Radiology

Sometimes it's not just as simple as a bi-annual cleaning like we as humans are used to. For pets who have been neglected or abused, they may have to undergo extensive dental treatment to help get their oral hygiene back on track. Other pets, such as puppies or older pets, may have to have teeth pulled or filled to help them feel better or make things grow in the right spot.

However, on a positive note, it is possible to see a veterinary dentistry specialist for just a simple cleaning. Most dentists offer both anesthetic and non-anesthetic procedures. Even pets know how scary the dentist's chair can be! They want to make the procedures as smooth and pain-free as possible.

Available Treatments: Equine Species

For equine owners, things can be a bit more tricky. Horses must have their teeth cleaned at least every two years to make sure they are able to graze properly, that their teeth are filed down to a safe level, and that there are no infections anywhere in their mouth. Any rider knows how difficult it can be to ride a horse with a mouth problem--it's nearly impossible!

Unless your horse is just having some build-up removed, nearly all equine dentistry procedures have to be done under a sedative. This is due to safety issues for both horse and veterinarian. While some very patient and quiet horses may be able to undergo treatment without being put under, most cannot. The sounds, smells, and experience is just too stressful.

However, despite this, it is up to you ultimately to decide if you want your horse to go under sedation. As an equine owner, you will have to take into consideration things such as:

  • How well your horse handles stress
  • If you will have any say in whether your horse should undergo sedation or not
  • What kind of tools the vet predominantly uses
  • Where the procedures will take place; meaning at a clinic or in your own facilities
  • Possibly even if there have been any deaths or accidents in this area of the veterinarian's practice

Most veterinarians have been practicing for many years, so they won't steer you wrong when it comes to you and your companion's needs.

What Can I Do As a Pet Owner?

So what can a pet owner do to ensure the dental health of their pets? For non-equine owners, it is pretty simple. You can start by scheduling regular check-ups for your pet; once or twice a year is fine, unless something is wrong. You can also brush your pet's teeth at home. They have specialized toothbrushes for pets that slip right onto the tip of your finger! If your pet doesn't let you do that often, there are many vet-recommended chew sticks that help promote healthy teeth and gums. Some of the best rated are Dental Scrubbies, Twistix Dental Treats, and Greenies.

For equine owners, you can do similar things. Some veterinarians have noticed that horses that graze in open pastures rather than eating mainly hay, have better oral health. You can also buy chewy treats to help keep your horse's mouth sparkly clean. A diet full of fiber will also help keep your them healthy longer.

As you can see, dentistry is a very important aspect of taking care of your pet. Without it, your beloved friend can suffer greatly. So don't let them go without proper oral care. While they may not have to floss or brush twice a day, I'm sure they will appreciate your concern about how their mouth is feeling.

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