Dental Disease in Pets
The doctor has found dental disease in your pet, what does that mean?Just as in people, plaque accumulates around the teeth, hardening into calculus (or tartar) in about 24 hours . Bacteria can grow and cause an infection of the gums, tooth pulp and jawbone. Infected gums and teeth are constantly painful and affect your pet’s quality of life. Think of the pain of a toothache! The buildup on the outside of the teeth is just the tip of the iceberg. Most dental disease occurs below the gum line which is why x-rays are necessary to fully assess oral health in pets. Many pets live with dental disease that is untreated for years. Over the past twenty years the veterinary field has shifted our focus to preventative care instead of problem based care. This includes assessing oral health of your pet every year and discuss cleanings and home care that can improve dental health.
Dogs and cats will not be still for a thorough assessment and cleaning of their teeth and gums; for this reason anesthesia is required for a complete oral health assessment and treatment. Many people are afraid of anesthesia, but the risks of anesthesia are far less than the risks of an infected tooth, not to mention the PAIN associated with dental disease. There is also a large risk to non-anesthetic dentistry- using sharp scaling instruments in an awake animal is not a safe situation. The procedure is the same as when you have a cleaning at the dentist and some discomfort while cleaning under the gumline or of a sensitive spot is expected. In order to make anesthesia as safe as possible, your pet needs to be on intravenous fluids, and connected to various monitors for blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature and oxygen. When your veterinarian follows the AAHA (America Animal Hospital Association) guidelines, your pet will have a dedicated anesthesia technician to attend to monitoring during the procedure. This is the safest way to care for your pet. Your veterinarian will also do an exam the morning of any anesthetic procedure to confirm your pet is healthy the day of. This will likely include blood work as well, looking for signs of internal disease or reasons that a prophylactic treatment should be postponed. Our job as a veterinarian is to provide the best medical care to your pet.
Preventing Dental Disease
It is important to recognize that dental disease can be addressed with routine home care. This can help decrease the number of veterinary dental cleanings your pet will need over their lifetime. Factors that can influence a pet’s susceptibility to dental disease include breed, (small dogs and certain cat breeds are more prone), if they are aggressive chewers or chew on objects that can damage their teeth and gums, and the amount of home care given. Brushing three to five times a week, switching to a prescriptive dental food and incorporating enzymatic dental chews are all important steps in keeping your pet’s mouth healthy.
Make sure to discuss your pet’s dental health with your veterinarian at your wellness visits each year to take the best care of your pet’s teeth.