Dental Month is coming up in February. Are you ready?
Hope everyone enjoyed the holidays. With the new year ahead of us, it’s good to make resolutions for improving our health. But what about your pets? Something that is often overlooked in our pet’s health is their teeth. It’s easy to ignore that pesky tartar build-up until they get in your face with that stinky breath. By then, you’re looking at having a pretty significant amount of dental work and probably extracting quite a few teeth.
First let’s talk about what happens with the teeth. Obviously, our teeth are used to break down food in the mouth. We have bacteria in our mouth and saliva that help with this. Plaque is the film that will often cover our teeth after this process. Over time, if this plaque is not removed, it will calcify and form tartar. That is the hard, yellow to brown material that you will see on the teeth. This material irritates the gums and with the bacteria will cause the gums to soften and become red. This is where the stinky breath comes in. As the tartar accumulates and the gums become soft and infected, the teeth will become detached from the bone, become loose and may fall out. This process is painful, and you may see your pet drool, excessively paw at the mouth or lose their appetite. Obviously, we’d like to avoid that situation.
As with all of us, it is important to take care of your pet’s teeth. Ideally, it is best to get into good habits when they are young. There are many products available to help with this. There are special pet toothbrushes and special toothpaste that we can use. Don’t use human toothpaste. Pets have a tendency to swallow it. There are also many treats commercially available that may help with tartar control. CET brand treats are generally available through veterinarians and have been scientifically proven to reduce plaque build-up. Over-the-counter brands such as greenies are helpful as well. We also have dental wipes at the hospital that have enzymes that will reduce plaque. Regardless of what you use, something must be done daily for the teeth.
There are also prescription diets that will help prevent tartar build-up. Hill’s Science Diet has t/d and Royal Canin has Dental. Both of these products are dry kibble that contain a matrix that provides a brushing action for the teeth. They also contain an enzyme to help prevent plaque formation. Because of the matrix formation, the kibbles tend to be bigger than your regular food. They do come in small-bite formulations for the smaller dogs.
Unfortunately, regardless of what we do to slow down the process, eventually the plaque and tartar will accumulate, and a dental cleaning will be needed. This entails a general anesthetic and use of an ultrasonic scaler to remove the tartar. It is better to do this before there is a lot of accumulation and damage to the teeth if possible. At every 2 exam, we will assess the teeth and grade the dental disease from 1 (minimal) to 4 (excessive). We will generally recommend the teeth be cleaned for a dental score of 1-2 or greater. While general anesthesia may be scary, we recommend bloodwork be done ahead of time to ensure that the kidneys and liver can process the anesthesia. We use the safest anesthetic protocols we can, individualized to your pet’s needs as appropriate. We have a designated staff member to monitor your pet the entire time they are under anesthesia, using modern monitor devices similar to what they use in human hospitals. We place an indwelling IV catheter and fluids to all our patients and provide pain control in the form of local blocks and medications to administer at home.
Once we have the patient under anesthesia, we can better assess the teeth. We will scale and polish the teeth and measure any pocketing around each tooth. If a tooth appears to have a large pocket, is mobile or there is a fracture of the tooth, it may need to be extracted. We can x-ray the tooth to get an idea of whether there is bone loss beneath the gum line to help our determination. We may be able to save the tooth if there is some pocketing, but no mobility or bone loss by applying an antibiotic infused gel into the pocket itself.
The cost of a dental cleaning can be quite variable. We generally charge for the time involved. So a patient that is a simple cleaning, with no need for x-rays or extraction is going to be quite a bit less expensive than a patient with severe dental disease that requires x-rays and multiple extractions. We are happy to provide you with an estimate, based on an exam of the teeth.
I should also mention the practice of non-anesthetic dentals. In general, the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) does not approve of these practices. The problem with scaling the teeth without the benefit of anesthesia is the inability to thoroughly clean under the gum line, the inability to x-ray and extract the teeth. It provides a false sense of security, since there may be disease beneath the gum line that may be missed. Hope this was helpful.
Here’s to a happy 2020 with sweet doggy breath kisses from now on!