More Than a Pretty Smile

smiling dog 1The Importance of Dental Health for Your Pet

So why are regular dental check-ups, and — when called for — professional dental cleaning so important for your pet?  Well, to begin with, approximately 75% of all pets have signs of periodontal disease by age 3.  Periodontal disease is a chronic infection in the gums.  Apart from the discomfort and bad breath issues this creates, the bacteria from that infection can enter the bloodstream and create heart, kidney and liver issues.

Although at home dental care can make the need for professional cleaning less frequent, it’s not a substitute when plaque and tartar build up to the point of gingivitis, which is the inflammation and source of infection in your pet’s gums.

So how does this happen?  Plaque builds up on the teeth, then saliva in the mouth interacts with the plaque to create tartar, which finds its way under the gum line.  Once under the gum line, the bacteria destroy supporting tissue around the teeth, leading to periodontitis which causes tooth loss.  These same bacteria can enter the bloodstream creating even more serious organ issues in your pet.

But why do I pay more for my pet’s dental care than I do for my own?

Well, if pets would sit still in a dental chair they wouldn’t require anesthesia, but maybe one in a thousand dogs (and one in ten thousand cats) would actually be calm enough to let the dental technician clean their teeth while they’re awake.

And anesthesia, while it doesn’t generally pose any danger to your pet, is pretty involved.

First, it’s important to do pre-anesthetic blood tests to ensure your dog or cat doesn’t have any underlying medical issues that would require a different approach to anesthesia.  This of course has the added benefit of giving your veterinarian a heads up on any systemic issues that need to be addressed.  And then during the dental procedure itself, your pet will have an IV catheter inserted to administer fluids; he or she will have electronic monitoring of EKG, pulse rate, respiration rate, and blood oxygenation; and be bracketed with warm water and warm air blankets to ensure constant body temperature.

The actual procedure will be performed with an ultrasonic cleaning tool and a rotating polishing brush.  Polishing is important, in addition to cleaning, to fill any minute ridges left in teeth after the cleaning, so that the teeth are more resistant to future plaque buildup.

Aren’t there risks to anesthesia?  Although the risks to modern veterinary anesthesia are minimal, the blood analysis we do prior to the procedure lessens the risk even further by identifying any systemic issues that may require adjustments to our anesthesia protocol.

What should I expect from my “pet’s day at the dentist”? Well, you’ll receive an estimate of the costs we anticipate in advance of the procedure, and your pet should have no solid food for at least ten hours prior to the scheduled procedure, although water is permissible.

Upon arrival, we’ll draw blood for the necessary pre-anesthetic tests and place your animal’s IV catheter in a front leg.  When it comes time for the procedure itself, he or she will be given a fast-acting sedative and a shot for any pain (which should be minimal unless extractions are involved), then the gas anesthesia, which is mixed with pure oxygen, will be administered and he or she will be connected to the monitoring equipment.  During the procedure itself, if it’s noted that any teeth are beyond the point of retaining them, you’ll be phoned with the estimate for the additional work and asked for your OK.  We don’t take extractions lightly, so we don’t recommend unless we feel it’s in your pet’s best interest, but you of course have the right to decline these extractions.  After the procedure, your  pet is gently awakened and placed in an incubator (smaller pets) or in a kennel with heated disks and a blanket for warmth.  Your pet will be ready to go home in mid-to-late afternoon.

After your pet has been home a few days, you’ll want to begin your program of at home dental care.  It may not eliminate the need for future dental cleaning by your veterinarian (note that some breeds are more prone to tartar buildup than others), but it will certainly make the need less frequent.  The following instructional video can be used as a start, but you should be aware that both of the pet “models” in the video have obviously been getting their teeth brushed for awhile.  Particularly at first, it may not be quite as easy as this video makes it seem.