The Complete Oral Health Assessment and Treatment

Dental disease is on the rise and is the SECOND most prevalent illness found in our household pets (obesity being the #1 disease). It is also, unfortunately, commonly under-diagnosed as dogs and cats tend to be very stoic and thus, do no show owners signs of discomfort or pain often times until the disease has progressed to the point where surgical intervention is required. This is why it is so important that we do a thorough exam of your pet’s mouth at the time of their yearly examination and ideally, book him or her in for an annual COHAT.

During your regular veterinary exam, your veterinarian will look at your pet’s mouth, looking for “missing teeth,” signs of disease (swelling, pain, discharge) and in the case of younger animals, they make sure their bites are properly aligned and their adult teeth are coming inappropriately. Dogs and cats cannot be trained to keep their mouths open for their dental procedure, thus, a complete oral health assessment and treatment (COHAT) is a procedure that takes place under general anesthesia.

Pre-surgical blood work is often time procured and runs within two weeks of the procedure to ensure that all the internal organs and blood cell types are in tip-top shape to handle the medications necessary for the surgery. Once anesthetized, the mouth will be thoroughly examined for masses/tumours, lesions (cuts), foreign bodies (sticks/bones) and infection. The teeth are all assessed for probing depth (space around the tooth), active bleeding of the gums, plaque/tartar build up, as well as overall gingivitis. We will do full mouth radiographs in order to look at the tooth and bone hidden underneath the gum-line. At times, we will find small abscesses, fractured tooth roots, cavities or bone pathologies that cannot be seen by visually looking at the mouth. Once this entire health assessment is performed, we can choose an appropriate treatment plan, which may include tooth extractions, referral to board-certified dentists for specialized therapy, or full dental scaling and polishing. Once all the dental work is completed, your pet recovers from their surgery in-clinic and are generally sent home that evening.

Regular dental care is very important in maintaining good oral health. This includes daily tooth brushing (which may have to be delayed a couple of weeks if your pet has any sutures from dental extractions), dental diets (such as Hill’s Tartar Diet or RC’s Dental Diet) and/or water additives to help break down tartar and plaque. We always recommend owners take a peek at their pets’ mouths when brushing the teeth to look for any new lumps, bumps, fractured teeth or lesions. Often times, I have owners ask if perhaps giving bones and antlers as chew toys or treats is a good method for preventing a buildup of plaque and tartar. It is NOT a veterinarian recommended treat for dogs, as the bones and antlers are much too solid for dog teeth. Dogs will power through chewing on these delicious bones and crack their teeth, exposing painful roots. These are very painful and typically need to be extracted in immediate surgery.

Some Signs and Symptoms of Dental Disease:

  • Bad breath
  • Weight loss
  • Bleeding from the mouth.
  • Difficulty eating decreased interest in treats.
  • Suddenly dislikes their regular food.
  • Hiding (especially true in cats).
  • Loss of interest in play.
  • Behaviour changes (fearful, aggressive, timid etc.).
  • General slowing down the “ageing” process.

If you are noticing any of these signs or symptoms, do not hesitate to contact our veterinary team and book an appointment for your pet. Your pet will thank you for making sure his or her pearly whites are healthy and pain-free! Should you have any questions regarding pet care, please contact us at 902.225.7543.


Written by Lisa Rawding, Site Coordinator