Easily 80% of the dogs, cats & rabbits we see are afflicted with varying stages of dental disease which is one of the many reasons an annual general health check is so important. If left untreated, dental disease can have serious implications for your pets overall health such as the development of heart, liver or kidney disease.
For dogs and cats, all dental procedures are done under a general anesthetic in our dedicated dental suite. This gives our vets the opportunity to fully examine your pet’s mouth and come up with a plan whether it be a simple ultrasonic scale & polish, tooth extraction(s) or more advanced procedures such as root canal therapy or orthodontics. One of our highly trained nurses monitors your pet’s anesthesia throughout. If your pet requires any tooth extractions, local anesthetic nerve blocks are routinely used.
Once your pet’s mouth is sparkling clean and free of disease, we can then provide you with a wealth of knowledge on what you can do at home to maintain your pet’s dental hygiene.
Why does my pet need an anaesthetic for a dental cleaning?
Plaque and tartar is composed of bacteria. When it is removed from the surface of the teeth we worry that small pieces could be inhaled by the patient causing a lung infection. For this reason, “Non-anaesthetic” cleaning is NEVER recommended. Anaesthesia allows us to place an endotracheal tube in the windpipe to prevent infection in the lungs. Secondly, the most important part of the cleaning is the removal of plaque and tartar below the gumline. This is just not possible in an awake pet. And lastly, the teeth are not polished, which will leave the cleaned surface rough and actually increase the adherence of plaque to the teeth.
Isn't my pet too old for a dental?
We quite often hear from clients about pets who have had issues or have died under anaesthesia. Twenty years ago many of these concerns would be valid reasons for not proceeding with an elective procedure in an older pet. Fortunately, things have changed for pets having anaesthesia today. Contemporary anaesthesia is much safer in several ways.
First, pre-anaesthetic examinations and testing helps us to recognize those pets that are having internal problems that aren't yet recognizable by their owners at home. If a problem is found, we can try to resolve it before allowing the pet to undergo anaesthesia.
Second, the combination of modern inhalant gas and dental nerve blocks is a much safer arrangement than using only injectable agents to achieve an appropriate level of anaesthesia. As mentioned above, the endotracheal tube protects against contamination of the lungs by oral or stomach contents.
Third, monitoring has changed from merely watching to see if the animal is breathing to tracking pulse rate and quality, blood pressure, respiratory rate, temperature and electrical rhythm of the heart. When pets are being monitored appropriately it allows veterinarians and vet nurses to detect abnormalities and initiate therapy to avoid anaesthetic problems.
Fourth, it is strongly recommended that all pets undergoing dental care now receive fluid therapy by intravenous catheter during anaesthesia to maintain vascular volume and blood pressure. This protects sensitive brain and kidney cells. We also use thermal support to prevent hypothermia during anesthesia which can change the rate at which the drugs are processed.
Age is not a disease and mature pets that are otherwise healthy are able to tolerate anaesthesia well. A pet that is older is more likely to have severe periodontal disease and thus more pain. These animals still need care in order to maintain the quality of their lives. Taking care of their gums and teeth is also one of the best ways to extend their lifespan.
Why do dental procedures cost so much?
The cost of dental care for pets has certainly increased as the quality of anaesthesia, cleaning and services have increased. One example is that we offer dental radiography (xrays), which allows us to see the roots and bone surrounding each tooth. We want to provide safe anaesthesia and a service that actually helps to treat pain and prevent progression of disease. To do that we need special equipment like a blood pressure monitor, fluid pump and an ultrasonic scaler. Most of this equipment isn't necessary when human teeth are cleaned because we are not undergoing anaesthesia. Also, remember that usually our hygienist is performing a routine preventative cleaning before hardly any tartar has built up on our teeth. Pets rarely get dental care this early and thus their cleaning is not a true preventative.
Tooth extractions have been recommended by my vet, but will he still be able to eat without these teeth?
Yes. Our goal in veterinary dental care is for our patients to have mouths free of infection and pain. It is much better to have no tooth at all than to have an infected tooth with a root abscess or a painful broken tooth. We have many dog and cat patients that are able to eat a regular dry diet with few or even no teeth! There are options to refer for more advanced dental therapy to preserve teeth under certain circumstances and this will be offered if there is a possibility of saving teeth.
My pet isn't showing any signs of pain even though he has broken teeth and red inflamed gums. Wouldn't he stop eating if he was in any pain?
Some pets will stop eating altogether when their teeth, bone and gums hurt badly enough. The vast majority, however, will find some tactic to keep eating. They may chew on one side of their mouth or swallow biscuits whole. Pets have an extremely strong instinct to survive no matter what discomfort they feel. Sometimes the symptoms of periodontal disease are so vague that we don't notice them. Pets may be reluctant to hold their toys in their mouths, be less playful, resent having their teeth brushed or faces touched, have a hard time sleeping, cats may not groom themselves or pets may have no outward symptoms at all. Often, after we have treated broken teeth or extracted infected teeth, our patients' owners tell us that they act more energetic and playful than they have in years!
How often should a routine dental cleaning be performed?
Every patient is different so this is a hard question to answer. Usually smaller dogs should have their teeth cleaned earlier and more often because their teeth are more crowded in their mouths. Bigger dogs may not develop tartar as quickly but their mouths should be monitored closely for any broken teeth. Cats are all individuals and should be examined closely for any excessive gingivitis which may be an indication of some special cat diseases like resorptive lesions or stomatitis/gingivitis syndrome.
How can periodontal disease hurt my pet?
The possible local (ie in the mouth) effects of periodontal disease are pain, infection of the gums, bone and/or teeth, and loss of teeth. Chronic infection of the periodontal tissues allows bacteria to enter the circulatory system resulting in seeding of the internal organs (heart, kidneys, liver) and may lead to serious infections in these organs as well.