Studies have shown that a timely oral health assessment and treatment can prolong the lives of pets by 10-20% by delaying or preventing the onset of disease, and certainly increases their quality of life. Good oral health is an important part of good general health for your pet. Signs of oral and dental diseases in dogs and cats:
- Bad breath
- Loose teeth or teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar
- Your pet shies away from you when you touch the mouth area
- Drooling or dropping food from the mouth
- Bleeding from the mouth
- Loss of appetite or loss of weight (this combination can result from diseases of many organs, and early veterinary examination is important)
Plaque and Tartar Control
Prevention of the most common oral disease in pets (and in people!) consists of frequent removal of the dental plaque and tartar that forms on teeth that are not kept clean. The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) awards its seal of acceptance to products that successfully meet pre-set criteria for effectiveness in controlling plaque and tartar deposition in dogs and cats. The VOHC is an entity of the American Veterinary Dental College. If you would like information on products that will help control deposition of dental plaque and tartar on the teeth of your pet, click Veterinary Oral Health Council.
What other resources are there for further information?
Dr. Jan Bellows, an accredited veterinary dentist with many pictures and more articles, as well as the "Smile Books" which show all kinds of before and after examples.
Fear of general anesthesia is a natural concern voiced by many owners when a dental procedure is recommended. However, the risk of chronic oral infection, for example, is far greater than the risk of an anesthetic complication. Appropriately administered general anesthesia entails extremely low risk for the patient, as a result of a combination of pre-anesthetic assessment of the patient (including blood tests or other tests as indicated), use of modern anesthetic agents and local anesthetic blocks (which minimizes the depth of general anesthesia required), plus modern anesthetic monitoring equipment. Many patients are awake and standing within 15-20 minutes of completion of the procedure and go home the same day.
While no one can guarantee the outcome of anesthesia, our staff are trained to provide safe anesthesia and to minimize pain for your pet. We have a dedicated technician who is with your pet during their entire anesthetic procedure, monitoring their progress and assisting the doctor throughout the process.
Our own teeth are scaled by a dentist or hygienist - we sit in the chair and open our mouth when requested, letting the professional do their work. While the principles of good oral hygiene and dental health are the same for dogs and cats as for people, there are some significant differences. We understand why the procedure is important, and we typically do not need sedation or restraint. Neither is true for our pets. Another important difference between human and veterinary dental practice is that we can tell the dentist when there is discomfort. to ensure that nothing is missed in dogs or cats, our patients require a thorough oral examination as part of a dental scaling procedure.
They are under anesthesia, now what?
Every professional complete oral assessment and cleaning treatment starts with a review of the patient's general health and any previous dental history. For a thorough, safe dental cleaning in veterinary patients, anesthesia is essential, as this permits a comprehensive assessment of the tissues, allows dental radiographs to be taken, followed by the cleaning (scaling and polishing procedure) itself. So-called "anesthesia-free dental scaling" is not recommended by American Veterinary Dental College.
If the extent of the abnormality is limited to accumulation of plaque and dental tartar with gingivitis or only mild periodontitis (bone loss around the tooth), professional dental cleaning is indicated. Your pet's veterinarian will call you if additional abnormalities requiring attention are found. Professional dental cleaning removes dental plaque and tartar that cause periodontal disease. The dental deposits are removed by power (ultrasonic) and hand dental scalers. Following scaling, the teeth are polished to remove residual plaque and to smooth the tooth surface (which delays deposition of plaque and tartar subsequently). A plaque disclosing solution is applied to all teeth to ensure no plaque was left behind. The mouth is then rinsed to remove debris prior to a final inspection. A plaque-preventive material may be applied to the teeth. We offer a complimentary oral recheck with a technician one week after every dental procedure. At this time we will talk to you and your family about recommendations for daily home oral hygiene specific for dogs or cats.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
- Is it safe for my pet to undergo anesthesia?
We will fully examine your pet for any underlying disorders and perform pre-anesthetic blood screening prior to the cleaning. Your pet will be kept comfortable on a warming blanket, given continuous intravenous fluids and vital signs will be constantly monitored throughout the procedure. While no one takes anesthesia lightly, the risk from untreated dental disease is far greater than the risk from a well-managed anesthesia.
- What is plaque and tartar and why are they such a big deal?
Dental plaque is a constantly forming sticky film which covers the teeth, containing large amounts of bacteria. If left unchecked, it becomes mineralized and turns into a hard yellow-brown crust called tartar (or calculus). The presence of tartar irritates, inflames and destroys the gums, sets up ideal conditions for continued infection, and causes eventual loss of tissue and bone supporting the tooth.
- What is a "Complete Oral Health Assessment and Treatment"?
The Veterinarian start by performing a complete oral assessment of you're pet's mouth. We are looking for any abnormalities of the tongue, palate, cheeks, and throat. We then chart all teeth and look for missing, broken, loose, or worn teeth, gum recession, periodontal pockets, and infection. We use an ultrasonic scaler and hand-scaling instruments to remove all tartar and plaque both above and below the gum line. The teeth are then polished to retard the development of new tartar. Full mouth radiographs (x-rays) will be taken to enable us to see what is going on under the gumline (where 60% of the tooth lives!!!). We provide you with a full report when you pick up your pet, and offer thorough instructions and suggestions for preventive home dental care.
- Can I just brush my pet's teeth or give dental chews to remove the tartar?
Once formed, tartar can only be completely removed by scaling the teeth under anesthesia. The tartar beneath the gum line causes the most significant disease and can only be removed in this way. This type of professional cleaning is similar to what a dental hygienist does for our teeth at the dentist office.
- My groomer offers "dental cleaning". Is that the same as what you are recommending?
No! Effective removal of tartar and plaque can only be done with specialized dental equipment to scale and polish each tooth and must be done under anesthesia. Your groomer's services can be a valuable adjunct to your home care AFTER a complete Dental Scale and Polish has been performed by the veterinarian.
- My pet's teeth don't seem all that bad. What if I wait?
The tartar will get worse. As oral disease progresses, your pet may experience bleeding gums, pain, infections, and irreversibly weakened bone structure around the teeth. Future dental cleanings will become more complicated; x-rays, extractions, and antibiotic therapy may become necessary, and the overall expense will be greater - both financially, and to your pet's general comfort. The doctor is recommending a cleaning now because there is visible tartar in your pet's mouth and we want to prevent any disease from developing.
- How often will my pet need a Complete Oral Health Assessment and Treatment?
This can vary quite a bit due to various factors such as the age and breed of your pet. Smaller dogs and certain breeds of cats tend to develop periodontal disease more quickly. Regular home dental care is effective at prolonging the interval between professional cleanings. Still, some pets need a complete oral health assessment and treatment on an annual basis, some more frequent and a few get by with less often.
- What can I expect if surgical extractions are needed
If surgical extraction is recommended, it means that your pet will actually be better off without the affected tooth than with it left in place! We charge for surgical extractions by the time and expertise required to successfully remove the tooth. Any surgical extraction will be followed by a dental radiograph to ensure complete removal. If surgical extractions are performed, we will also administer pain medications and may send home additional medications for at-home care.
- What will it cost?
The cost of a complete oral health assessment and treatment varies with the severity of dental disease. We will prepare a detailed written treatment plan of the charges for your approval prior to reserving the appointment. We are able to provide you with a breakdown of exactly what goes into our package, so you can compare apples to apples with services that may be offered in other locations.