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Pets Need Dental Care, Too!

Updated: Feb 5, 2018

Your precious pet looks and acts as if she is in perfect health, but odds are that she suffers from a common, preventable disease! If you find yourself avoiding those doggie kisses because of your pet’s breath, maybe it’s time to talk to your veterinarian about Pet Dental Health!

Every February, veterinary offices across the entire country observe National Pet Dental Health Month. Thinking about your pet’s teeth is probably not a high priority for you, but the fact is more than 80% of adult dogs and cats suffer from some sort of dental disease. Problems with our pets’ smiles are the most commonly diagnosed issue with our adult dogs and cats, beating out cancer, injuries and even obesity! Now that you know, what can you expect when your veterinarian starts discussing that needed dental cleaning?

Like us, dental disease in our pets can cause a lot of different issues. Bad breath, bleeding gums and loose teeth are universally known, but more serious problems can also occur. For example, there is a link between dental disease and heart valve problems in both people and pets! Infections of the kidneys or lungs are also possible due to the significant bacterial shower coming from the mouth and traveling throughout the body. Most importantly, your bond with your furry friend might not be the same if she is trying to give you kisses from a nasty mouth!

Many owners look at their pet’s mouth and think that tartar build-up, strong odors or even extra teeth might be normal, but all of these are signs of more significant disease. Even pets who have pearly white teeth could have hidden issues. More than 28% of dogs and 42% of cats with “normal” looking mouths will end up showing signs of dental disease on x-rays.

When your veterinarian says your pet needs a dental cleaning, here’s what you can expect

during that visit. First, after proper identification of the pet has been made, the veterinarian will give her a good physical exam. Along with pre-anesthetic bloodwork, we want to ensure that there aren’t any bigger, more serious problems that need addressed more timely. Next, pre-anesthetic medications are given to relax the pet and an intravenous catheter is placed. Once your pet is nice and calm, she is placed under general anesthesia, an endotracheal tube is positioned, and she will start on a safe, gas anesthetic.

It is important to stop here and state that YES, your pet needs to be completely anesthetized for these procedures. It is simply not possible to completely and safely assess pets’ teeth without it and attempting a cleaning is nearly impossible in an awake animal. Guidelines from the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA, require general anesthesia and intubation of any pets undergoing dental cleanings. While some businesses will claim they can clean your pet’s teeth without anesthesia, they fail to address the underlying disease of the mouth and really end up simply making the teeth whiter, but not healthier!

After your pet is fully asleep, a highly trained veterinary technician or veterinary assistant will make sure that monitors for vital signs are set up and functioning and then start a charting process of the pet’s mouth, much like what you would experience in your dentist’s chair. Abnormalities, such as masses, broken or missing teeth or substantial gingival recession are noted for the veterinarian. As the standard of care evolves, many practices are also employing digital dental x-rays for a complete assessment. With 60% of the tooth residing under the gum line where it can’t be seen, this step helps identify those hidden issues mentioned above.

Once the oral cavity has been fully assessed, the cleaning starts! Using ultrasonic scalers along with hand-held instruments, dental tartar and plaque are removed from the surface of the teeth. Because this step will actually create microscopic divots in the tooth enamel, the scaling of the teeth is always followed a polishing step to remove those defects. This is another step that is often forgotten or simply not done by individuals doing anesthesia free pet dentistry.

Now that your pet’s oral health is fully documented, the veterinarian may give you a call and discuss findings. Problem teeth are extracted or, in some cases, you might get a referral to a veterinary dentist for more specialized work, such as root canals or restorations. After the treatment has been completed, your pet will recover in a safe and warm area all while being closely watched by the veterinary team.

The final step in all of this involves YOU! According to our veterinarians, doing some sort of at home care can greatly reduce the severity of dental disease AND possibly extend the time in-between dental cleanings for your furry family member. Your veterinary team will discuss different diets, teeth cleaning toys and even teeth brushing! Now that you know about dental disease in pets, what will you do to make your pet’s smile brighter?

- Thomas F. Dock, BSc, CVJ, Noah’s Animal Hospitals

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