Things you should know when taking your pet to the dentist.
Loïc Legendre, DVM, FAVD, Diplomate AVDC,
Northwest Veterinary Dental Services Ltd.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Dr. Legendre is a board certified specialist with a Veterinary Practice in Vancouver, BC
The first and foremost question to answer is why take your pet to the dentist/veterinarian?
Pets, like us, suffer from periodontal disease, which, if untreated, will cause loss of teeth. Periodontal infection affects the oral cavity but also the rest of the body. We now know that chronic dental disease can cause damage to kidneys, liver, heart valves, etc.. Dental disease rarely makes the patient “sick” but it can shorten the life span of the pet by as much as two years. So taking care of your pet’s teeth is a long term investment. The rewards are pets that enjoy healthier and longer lives.
Why go to a veterinarian?
Removing the tartar visible on the crowns is not nearly enough. The infection is actually most severe under the gums and to reach these areas safely, the patient needs to be placed under general anesthesia. Removing tartar on an animal that is awake is only a cosmetic job. It does absolutely nothing to improve the health of the patient and should not be called dentistry.
What is involved in a dental cleaning?
The procedure is similar to what is done by a dental hygienist. Every day plaque is deposited on the teeth. If they are not brushed, the bacteria cause inflammation that result in bad breath (halitosis), loss of support, formation of pockets, root exposures, and ultimately, loss of teeth. Plaque transforms into calculus or tartar. This is a brown, mineralized deposit, easily seen on the surf ace of the crowns. Even good, daily brushing will not completely prevent formation of calculus. Metal dental instruments are required to remove it. This is where a professional cleaning becomes necessary. First, the teeth are
probed and inspected. Then tartar and plaque are removed using scalers and curettes.
Often an ultra sonic unit is used to facilitate and speed up the process. The teeth are then polished with pumice, and rinsed.
Are professional cleanings enough?
The answer is the same as with us: NO! Periodontal disease never stops. Plaque is continuously deposited and the only way to control it is to brush at least twice a day. The same is true for our pets. Home care plays the most important part in periodontal disease control. Because plaque deposits in a matter of hours, the control has to be done at home.
How often should a pet undergo a professional cleaning?
There are individual variations, but once again the answer is similar to what is done on the human side. In order to control periodontal disease efficiently, a pet should have a dental exam every 6 months and
a cleaning every 6 to 12 months. If the patient suffers from established periodontal disease (i.e. pockets, mobile teeth, etc..), dental visits should be set at more frequent intervals.
What other dental conditions often arise?
Dogs are prone to breaking teeth. Often they do not show any discomfort but if the pulp of the tooth is exposed, it gets infected and dies. Untreated, this condition results in the development of chronic abscesses, and damage s other organs in the body. So, a fractured tooth should NEVER be ignored no matter how “happy” the dog is. Until recently the only option was to extract the tooth. Now root canal treatments are available. The procedure is similar to what is done with human teeth. The pulp chamber is accessed; the canal is cleaned and shaped. All the necrotic tissues are removed before sealing the canal at both ends. It allows the tooth to continue to function without any ongoing infection. Cats are prone to a specific condition called “Resorptive Lesions”. It causes formation of cavities on the side of teeth. These cavities erode the dentin and result in broken, infected, painful teeth. The lesions can propagate inside the roots with minimal crown damage. Because there may be little to see, dental radiographs are essential to diagnose and to treat this condition correctly.
Other conditions sometime seen are: foreign bodies (stuck be tween teeth, causing abscesses), malocclusions, fractured jaws, and unfortunately, various types of cancer. Many of these problems are often discovered when the pet is brought for a dental cleaning. Owners that clean their pets’ teeth regularly discover these problems earlier, making treatment simpler.
How much does a dental cleaning cost?
This is the most frequently asked question, and it is an important one, but better yet would be to ask what is included in the cost? To perform a thorough dental cleaning, the patient needs to be anesthetized thus, general anesthesia should be included in the cost. There should be provision for antibiotics (the mouth is always dirty), intravenous fluids (to improve safety and speed of recovery following anesthesia), and pain killers (any dental procedure above and beyond cleaning is quite painful). With older pets, it is always recommended to perform some blood test s, before proceeding to anesthesia, to ensure that the patient is healthy enough to undergo the procedure. There should be
capacity of obtaining dental x-rays. X-rays are routinely used on the human side to monitor bone loss, look at caries, perform root canals, or search for an abscess. They serve the same role with our pets. For example, in the case of a cat suffering from Resorptive Lesions, dental x-rays are essential, to help with the diagnosis and treatment of this condition. In other words, it is notwhat you pay, but what kind of service your pet receives, that really counts.
Dentistry in animals follows the same philosophy as in human beings; it is much easier and cheaper to maintain a healthy mouth than to try to fix an infected, diseased one. To achieve that goal, one should follow what has been taught for the last 35 years: daily brushing associated with regular check ups is what works best.
The good news is; your pets do not require flossing!