The following terms & definitions are meant to aid you in better understanding your pet’s dental condition. If you have any questions, please ask your Non-Anesthetic Dental Hygienist or a veterinary staff member.
Abrasion: The wearing away of tooth structure. Caused by chronic contact with hard or abrasive objects such as fences, crate doors & tennis balls. Worn teeth often display brown areas on the occlusal surfaces (biting tips) which can be mistaken for calculus. Treatment is usually the removal of the objects causing the wear.
Anesthesia: Some conditions may require treatments beyond that which can be safely & reasonably performed without anesthesia. It may be recommended that your pet’s initial dental procedure be done under anesthesia. These conditions can include advanced periodontal disease & extractions. Depending on the situation, you may be able to request a pre-surgical or partial cleaning without anesthesia. The purpose of this procedure is to relieve the mouth of some of the debris & bacterial contamination. This allows the mouth to begin healing & lessens the anesthesia time by prepping the mouth. While the results of a pre-surgical or partial procedure can appear dramatic, it is not intended to be a complete dental treatment. Once the anesthetic-based procedure is completed, your pet can resume dental follow-up cleanings without anesthesia
Antibiotics & Probiotics: Antibiotics are prescribed when there is moderate to severe gingivitis, periodontitis or periodontal disease present. Elderly pets & those with health conditions are also recommended to be on antibiotics as a precaution. Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that antibiotics can destroy. Taking probiotics with & following antibiotic treatment helps restore the body’s bacterial balance. Ask your vet if your pet should be pre-medicated.
Calculus: Hard, mineralized plaque on a tooth’s surface. Commonly called tartar.
Crowding: Tooth is too close to adjacent tooth, sometimes appearing in front of or behind another tooth. Crowding can cause periodontal disease when debris & plaque are trapped in the crevices between the crowded teeth. Treatment can include diligent professional & home care or extraction of select teeth to relieve the condition. Extracting the tooth causing the condition can often spare the adjacent teeth from needing extraction later.
Discoloration/Hyperpigmentation: Abnormal coloring within the tooth. Often brown or gray. Frequently mistaken for calculus.
Epulus: Any abnormal growth. Common epuli can include abscesses, warts & tumors.
Follow-up: After the initial cleaning, your hygienist will recommend a reasonable follow-up schedule. Disregarding this recommendation may result in a regression of dental health.
FORL: Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesion. Commonly referred to as a cat cavity. FORL’s occur within the tooth structure beneath the enamel. As it advances, it contacts the tooth’s nerve & also surfaces. It initially appears as a small hole near the base of the tooth. This hole can be covered with a small bit of gingival tissue. It may look like a tiny pink dot at the base of the tooth in the early stage but can advance to the extent that it erodes away a significant portion of the tooth. Rate of advancement is individualized for each cat. Some may take years to advance beyond early stage. Others advance quickly. FORL’s can be very painful. Cats can, but often do not, show signs of discomfort. Often the only indication that the cat was in pain is the improved behavior after the affected teeth have been extracted. There is no definitive cause known for FORLs. The most common treatment is extraction.
Fractures: A break caused by trauma to a tooth. The most common cause is chewing on hard objects such as marrow bones, rawhide, hooves, nylon bones, crate doors, chain fencing etc. Other causes are falls & fights. Mild fractures can appear as tiny horizontal lines across a tooth. This is typically seen on canine teeth. Canine teeth can also have broken tips and severe breaks that remove a significant portion of the tooth. Fractures can also appear as a chip anywhere on the tooth. The most frequently seen fracture is commonly called a slab fracture. These occur when an animal uses the large premolars for chewing hard objects. The force breaks the face of the tooth off in a slab-like fashion, often exposing the root chamber & nerve. Sometimes slab fractures are superficial & no treatment is usually done. However, many times the break is deep & should be treated or at least evaluated. Most fractures appear to be painless & therefore it is typical to not take any action. However, whenever the protective enamel is broken, the tooth becomes vulnerable to bacteria entering into the inner portions of the tooth which can lead to abscesses & other problems. X-rays are very helpful in determining whether a slab fracture can be managed, treated or needs extraction. The best treatment is prevention. Do not give your pet anything hard to chew on. Instead offer pieces of raw vegetables, meat, small, size appropriate pieces of fruit and dried chicken strips. Soft toys, rope toys & stuffable kong toys are also acceptable.
Furcation: The space between two roots of a multi-rooted tooth. Exposure of the furcation is caused by receding gums exposing the area normally covered by gingival tissue. Appears like a cavity along the gumline & is usually filled with plaque, calculus & debris. Treatment is to keep the tooth & furcated area clean.
Gingivitis: Inflammation of the gingival tissue. Can be mild to severe. The initial stages of gum disease. Gingivitis can progress into periodontitis & periodontal disease.
Home Care: Maintaining your pet’s dental health between professional cleanings. This may include brushing, wiping , diet changes, antibacterial washes, water picks, etc. Home care is vital to the continued health of your pet’s mouth.
Hyperplasia: growth of gingival tissue beyond what is considered normal. Frequently seen in certain breeds such as bulldogs & boxers. Can also be caused by some medications. Not considered harmful unless it is advanced but it can create a pocket between the gum & tooth which can collect debris & result in periodontal disease & root exposure over time. Treatment is frequent cleaning of the vulnerable pockets. Surgery to remove the excess tissue is sometimes recommended
Mobile: Loose tooth. Causes: injury, poorly developed roots (commonly found in small dogs), periodontal disease (most common cause). Treatment varies depending on which tooth/teeth are involved, the degree/stage of mobility & the age & health of the pet. Stage one mobility can sometimes be reversed or stabilized with diligent professional & home dental care. Advanced stages of mobility may require extraction. If the tooth is small & has advanced mobility, it may be possible to remove it with sedation + local anesthetic. Otherwise, general anesthetic is required. X-rays may be beneficial.
Periodontal disease: Dental disease that can include inflammation, bleeding gums, recession, pockets, mobility, tooth loss. Early stages are reversible. Advanced stages are manageable with diligent care.
Perio Cleaning: A more extensive treatment than a routine cleaning. May require additional time or appointments.
Plaque: A thin, sticky film on teeth, composed of bacteria, saliva & food particles.
Pockets: Loss of gingival attachment to the tooth. The space between a tooth & healthy gum tissue is small, with the gum forming a tight band around the tooth. When periodontal disease is present this attachment loosens & causes a pocket to form between the tooth & gum. This pocket can be shallow or, as the disease progresses it can become quite deep. Unmanaged pockets can lead to tooth & bone loss. Cleaning these pockets can usually be done without anesthesia. However, when the pockets are extreme & the mouth’s general appearance is very poor, it may be recommended that anesthesia be used for the initial cleaning. Healing a pocket is possible but can be difficult because it requires frequent cleanings to keep the pocket free of debris & bacteria. However, diligent professional & home care can often stabilize or slow the progression significantly. See also root planing.
Recession, hypoplasia & root exposure: The presence of periodontal disease can cause the gingival tissue (gums) to recede away from the tooth. As recession advances, the gum no longer adequately covers the tooth causing a furcation & root exposure. This is one form of hypoplasia. Hypoplasia can also be caused by trauma to the gingival tissue such as when a fractured tooth tears away the tissue.
Retained: When a deciduous (baby) tooth remains, usually in front of the permanent tooth. It is commonly seen with canine teeth. If not treated, retained teeth can cause periodontal disease & threaten the health of the permanent teeth. Treatment is extraction of retained teeth.
Root planing: When calculus (tartar) forms deep below the gumline, along a tooth’s root, it can cause periodontal disease, pocketing. This surface needs to be planed to remove the debris & disease. Some root planing can be done without anesthesia on some pets. Other times anesthesia will be recommended for the initial cleaning if the condition is severe. Root planning w/o anesthesia requires a longer appointment
Sedation: Sedation, a.k.a. tranquilizer is occasionally ( but rarely) recommended for a dental cleaning if the patient is unable to have the non-anesthetic procedure done safely due to behavioral challenges such as hyperactivity, aggression or senior hypersensitivity. All pets are evaluated for their temperament & suitability by the technician. All reasonable efforts to clean the teeth will be made before suggesting sedation. If your pet falls into this category, you will be asked to make the decision to sedate or to decline the procedure. A staff member will explain the sedation to you. The effects of a sedative vary in duration for each pet .In some, it may wear off readily. In others it may take considerably longer. If you have any questions regarding sedation, please speak to a staff member.
Stain: Unattractive but harmless superficial discoloring of the tooth. Usually removed by scaling & polishing.
Trauma: injury to a tooth. Frequently caused by chewing hard objects or by falls. Traumatized teeth can have a pink or gray appearance. X-rays may be beneficial in evaluating the extent of the damage.
Veterinary Evaluation: When an abnormal condition is noted, the hygienist may recommend that your vet evaluate the condition & advise you of treatments.
X-rays: When there is trauma, fracture or disease present, x-rays can be of great benefit in determining conditions & treatments. X-rays allow the technician or vet to see beyond what is visible to the bare eyes. Abscesses, extractions, fractured roots, retained roots & perforations are some of the conditions that are better evaluated with the aid of x-rays. Not all practices have a dental x-ray machine but most can refer you to one when required.