By Adrienne Hergen, DVM
Did you realize that greater than 85% of dogs and cats over the age of six have dental disease? Dental tartar and bad breath can be sources of infection, are painful and will progress to tooth loss eventually. If there is visible tartar on the teeth then you should schedule a dental appointment for your pet.
Pets develop dental disease from not brushing their teeth and not having regular professional dental cleanings. Some breeds of dogs, particularly small breeds, can be more prone to dental disease. Brushing the teeth daily and having the teeth cleaned by your veterinarian when recommended is the only way to prevent dental disease. Feeding prescription diets, using sprays, sealers or wipes can help but not as much as brushing.
A thorough dental cleaning requires general anesthesia. Your pet will have an intravenous catheter in place and will receive intravenous fluids during the procedure. A trained assistant will monitor vital parameters, such as heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and respiratory rate, to decrease the risk of complications. The teeth will each be ultrasonically scaled, polished and checked for any signs of disease.
At Shirlington Animal Hospital, we recommend dental x-rays for every patient. This allows us to evaluate the enamel of each tooth as well as the structures below the gum line. We make every effort to save the teeth but if a tooth is unhealthy it should be surgically removed to prevent further sources of pain and infection. If you are particularly concerned about preserving a broken tooth, for example, there are board-certified veterinary dentists who can provide more advanced care such as root canals and dental implants. Shirlington Animal Hospital has invested in top of the line dental radiology equipment, anesthetic monitoring equipment, and high speed dental equipment to ensure your pet receives the best possible dental care.
Many clients are concerned about the possibility of their pet needing dental extractions. Removing diseased teeth is actually better for your pet than leaving diseased teeth in the mouth. Diseased teeth that are left in place can continue to be a source of pain and infection.
Many clients perceive that since their pet is eating normally that he/she must not be in pain. This is not the case because animals have a strong natural instinct to hide pain. By the time they stop eating, the pain is more severe than the will to survive and eat. Normal eating is not a reliable indicator of pain. Your pet’s mouth should be evaluated by us at each visit to determine when a dental cleaning is needed. Most clients notice a dramatic improvement in their pet’s behavior after dental disease is treated appropriately.
Many people are concerned about the risk of anesthesia as their pet gets older. There is always a risk associated with anesthesia but that risk is minimized by having a thorough physical exam completed before the procedure and having pre-anesthetic bloodwork done. This bloodwork, in particular, looks at the liver and kidney function which is important because it is the way the body filters the anesthesia. If your pet has a heart murmur, additional diagnostics will be recommended prior to proceeding with a dental cleaning.
It is very important to try and prevent dental disease from developing in your pet. Brushing the teeth at home and having dental cleanings done when minimal tartar is present will help prevent major oral surgery from being necessary in the future. Unfortunately, many pets we see have severely diseased mouths that require more advanced, and costly, procedures. You should always feel free to discuss your pet’s dental health with your veterinarian so we can develop a treatment and prevention plan to allow your pet to have a pain and infection free mouth.
Adrienne Hergen, DVM is one of the dedicated veterinarians at the newly opened Shirlington Animal Hospital, 2770 S. Arlington Mill Drive, Arlington, VA. Zebra welcomes her as one of our regular monthly columnists so look forward to helpful pet care tips and even fun case histories in the future.