A Walk through a Complete Dental Exam

When your dog or cat comes into our veterinary hospital for a routine physical exam or a scheduled dental exam this is what we are looking for when it comes to the mouth:

1) Mucous Membranes: The first thing we do is lift the lip and look at the colour of the mucous membranes (gums) in general and then specifically the gum that touches the tooth. The overall colour gives us a look into the overall circulatory health. With dental disease, we develop gingivitis which can range from mild to severe.

Teeth and pink gums from early gingivitis

Figure 1: Note that the overall gum colour is pink and appears moist and glistening. There is a small ridge of red gum tissue along the tooth line. This indicates early gingivitis

Bright red gingival tissue from severe oral disease

Figure 2: Bright red gingival tissue due to severe oral disease. The tissue is swollen and bleeds easily with gentle touch.

Of course, there are many in between stages but we often don’t see cases for dental exams until it is late stage. Routine physical exams are therefore really important every 6-12 months so we can detect early changes and make the required lifestyle changes.

2) Halitosis: Some pet’s breath can knock me over when I open the exam room door! We know that at the end of our day if we haven’t brushed our teeth our breath is not very kissable. Can you imagine never brushing? As bacteria break down food particles, sulphur compounds are produced which causes the odour. This can actually help us stage the dental disease.

Scratch and sniff stinky scented stickers

Figure 3: If only I could add a scratch n’sniff sticker!! LOL

3) Visual Exam of Mouth: Attempting to look into some pet’s mouths can be difficult but if we do it on every visit every year they do accept it well. It can be a different story if the mouth is painful and sometimes we need some form of anaesthesia/sedation. We are looking for the amount of tartar, plaque, gum recession, loose teeth, oral ulcers and oral masses. In addition, in cats, we look for signs of cavities.

Tartar with plaque at the gumline

Figure 4: Obvious tartar with plaque at the gumline. We can also see gum recession causing root exposure.

Feline cavity

Figure 5: Feline odontoclastic resorptive lesion aka “cavity”. You can see the ‘fleshy’ looking areas on these two teeth. These are painful and need to be surgically removed despite the rest of the tooth looking pretty good.

4) Additional Dental Exam Tools: Fun stuff!!
Dental UV light- This handy small tool can help highlight diseased areas. In early dental disease, it can be hard to tell how much on the tooth is staining versus tartar. This tool causes the tartar to glow but staining in the enamel does not.

A veterinary staff member shining a flashlight at a dog's open mouth

Figure 6: UV dental light

During the exam, the veterinarian or technician will discuss and show you what we are seeing. We will then prepare a quote for the recommended next step whether it be a dental cleaning under general anaesthesia or products to use at home to keep those teeth healthy. It is important to note that sometimes we do not know if teeth will require extraction until we chip off that tartar and look at the dental x-rays. The dental quote is therefore just an estimate. We do contact you prior to extracting a tooth and adding to your bill.

Written by Hillcrest Animal Hospital