Did you brush your teeth this morning? Did you brush your dog’s teeth? Whether it’s by brushing or by giving your dog or cat dental formulated food and treats, you should be thinking about your pet’s dental hygiene; especially because February is Pet Dental Health Month!
Why is dental health important? Just like us, our pets have bacteria and tartar continuously building up in their mouths. Besides leading to bad breath, pets with advanced dental disease can lose their teeth while developing painful dental abscesses. Dental disease also causes chronic inflammation, which is known to have negative effects on their general health and on the progression of some diseases like diabetes.
How we evaluate your pet’s dental health: During your pet’s annual exam, your veterinarian will look at the level of plaque and gingivitis in his mouth. This snap-shot doesn’t tell us what’s going on under the gum line or on tongue-facing surfaces of the teeth; so even the most cooperative pet needs anesthesia for a complete oral exam. General anesthesia reduces the stress your pet feels and increases his safety by allowing control and monitoring of his airway and vital signs. This is also safer for the veterinarian doing the exam, allowing us to look closely at all sides of each tooth with a probe and mirror. Many dental problems are only visible with X-rays, so no oral examination can be complete without them.
How we prevent and treat dental disease: Treatment starts with a dental cleaning using the same instruments as your dentist; hand scalers, an ultra-sonic scaler, and a polisher. Regular cleaning of all surfaces of the teeth, including the area below the gum line, is the best prevention for advancing dental disease.
Veterinary technicians are trained to do dental scaling and polishing, much like a dental hygienist, but only a veterinarian can make diagnostic decisions and perform procedures such as tooth extractions. Many groomers also offer dental scaling. An awake and moving pet is at risk of tooth and gum damage by the sharp hand scaler. Micro-abrasions left on teeth from these tools cause tartar to build up faster if not followed by a professional polisher. This surface scaling doesn’t get below the gum line or all sides of teeth; so while your pet’s mouth may look nice in the short-term, infection and inflammation may continue to build up unnoticed.
If your pet needs extractions or other work, a local anesthesia (nerve block) is used to prevent pain and decrease the amount of anesthetic gas used. After a tooth is extracted, the socket is cleaned of infection and the gum is closed with dissolving sutures to seal in the body’s healing factors to prevent pain and infection. Proper surgical technique and a well-balanced anesthesia ensure that most pets are comfortable enough to eat the same day. Pets need a few days of pain medication and occasionally antibiotics. Your pet should have a re-check about a week later to ensure everything is healing well.
What will this cost? Your veterinarian will give you an estimate, since we won’t know what needs to be done until the exam under anesthesia is complete. If you are comparing prices between clinics, make sure that the best standards of care, as mentioned above, are included and you won’t be surprised with add-ons later. In general, you should expect the cost to be similar to human dental fees, with the addition of anesthesia and monitoring.
Please make the most of Pet Dental Health month by talking to your veterinarian about ways to prevent oral disease.
Dr. K.J. Goldenberg is a veterinarian at the Pierrefonds Animal Hospital.