The Root of the Issue, the questions and concerns with pet dental care…
It’s that time of year again! February was Pet Dental Health Month. I often wonder why the powers that be chose the shortest month of the year when the topic and information is so vast and important, but they didn’t ask me! While I recognize that February has not-so-quietly turned into the strange weather of early Spring in March, the purpose of this blog post is to touch on the importance of year-round dental care.
You may see the advertisements on Facebook or at the clinic. Perhaps you hear ads on the radio or even the television. Maybe you didn’t even know that Pet Dental Health Month was a thing until you started to read this. Either way, this quarter’s blog aims to focus on why this became an official month in the first place, and what to expect when we talk about ‘dental prophylactic evaluation,’ a ‘teeth cleaning’ or for short, ‘a dental.’
So why the big hype, and where was it before? 10 years ago, you may not have had your veterinarian focus on dental health or discuss at every
visit. The progression of dental care in the veterinary industry may have been a bit behind the human world, but as our pets spend more time in our beds and kissing our children, we have become aware of the effects of dental disease not just on us with bad breath, but on our beloved pets as well.
In the exam room, we talk about dental health and every visit we give your pet a ‘Dental Scores.’ These are an objective way to measure how much tartar and dental disease is present in a pet’s mouth and teeth. The scale is 0-4 where 1 is mild tartar, (let’s get some work going at home!), and 4 is basically teeth are in danger of rotting out of the mouth and need immediate care. These Grade 4 Disease mouths are PAINFUL, and they are causing harm to your pet EVERY DAY. Just imagine if you had an abscess the size of your hand somewhere else on your body that oozed every time you ate or drank. This may sound graphic, but this is the equivalent of severe dental disease for your pet. The honest truth is that best chance we have at saving teeth and not having to extract (remove them) is when your pet is at Stage 2 or 3. By the time you are noticing the gum erode away, we’ve already lost valuable time.
Most parents of pets ask very similar questions. I’ll try and answer some of them here:
Do we have to brush every day? Or rather, is home care very important?
Simply put, YES!. You as caretakers have the biggest effect on your pet’s dental health and prevention of long-term dental disease.
I know this isn’t something anyone wants to hear because, let’s be honest, we get it! Teeth-brushing is one more thing to add to your to-do at the end of the day with an already busy schedule. Not only that, but we hear MANY times that Fido or Fluffy simply HATES to have her teeth brushed. We do understand, but unfortunately, we also see the drastic benefit between pets that receive home dental care and those that don’t.
Some helpful tips and tricks are:
- Start brushing teeth when your kids are young. Get them used to and have them start enjoying the process!
- Use dental diet as part of your feeding program
- If you can’t use toothbrushes, use dental wipes. These are great, and you don’t have to worry about getting out a toothbrush. All we are really doing is reducing the amount of bacteria, plaque, and tartar on the surface of the tooth.
- For more detailed options, take a look at our previous blog that addresses options: https://www.blueridgeanimalhospital.com/blog/tooth-behind-dental-month/
Why do we have to do dental cleanings every year? Or even more astounding, why would you recommend it every 6 months?!
Many of the responses I get when I recommend a dental cleaning is usually along the lines of ‘but they just had one last year (or 2 years ago, 3 years ago, fill in the blank!).’ We get it! Dental cleaning can be stressful to you and even your pet. Also, when something is done, who wouldn’t want it to stay that way for the long-term?
The best response I have to this is taken from the human world. Most of us brush our teeth twice daily. We are told to floss at least once daily. We buy rinses and special gum to help with it. Even with that, and 2 minutes of brushing daily, the ADA still recommends twice a year cleaning (and for the most part, we don’t eat poop off the ground!). You can only imagine how our pet’s mouths can be impacted! We cannot get every area of the tooth. We may not be able to brush every day. Not to mention what they are eating whether we want them to or not. Even if you have fed hard kibble and give bones or dental treats, this is the equivalent of us brushing once a week and chewing Trident gum. It probably helps, but it isn’t addressing the issue.
Yearly dental cleanings are recommended, even if you don’t see severe dental disease. Remember what we mentioned above? If we can save these teeth in grade 1 and 2, we make the tooth, the mouth, and the pet MUCH happier.
Okay, but WHY do we have to get it done? My pet doesn’t seem in pain.
This is another common response we get. Your pet is eating, still seems happy, wagging his tail, and does not seem to slow down one bit. So why should we ask you to put him under anesthesia (which does have risks), clean his teeth, and potentially cause more pain by removing some?
The best answer I have to this depends on if you’ve ever had a cavity or dental disease yourself. Dental disease hurts. There is no way around it. The nerves in the teeth and mouth are sensitive, which is good for tasting, but can cause constant low-grade pain. You may then inquire, “How come he doesn’t seem like he’s in pain? Why is he still eating?” Remember the old parable about the frog in boiling water. Most of your pets dental pain has built up over time. They gradually get used to the tooth that is being destroyed by tartar, and then the pus, and then the infection. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt. Often what I hear after addressing a mouth that has any dental disease is: “She’s just like a puppy again! We didn’t know she was in so much pain. She feel so much better!” It is true that often the signs of slowing down, aging, or lethargy may be associated with chronic pain or disease.
What about the ANESTHESIA?!
If this is your main fear, you are not alone. A large number of pet owners consider anesthesia as their biggest deterrent from pursuing dental prophylaxis and x-rays.
While we cannot eliminate the risks of anesthesia, we can mitigate it as much as possible. Here at our AAHA facility, we have a nurse present for your pet’s entire dental procedure and provide your pet with an ASA score to recognize their risk. They are monitored with EKG, SPO2, capnography (CO2), esophageal stethoscope, blood pressure, and direct monitoring. A specialized heating unit is used to maintain body temperature. They also receive a catheter for direct IV access during the procedure, and it also allows us to utilize IV fluid therapy during the procedure to reduce the risk of dehydration and low blood pressure during the procedure. Patients receive pain medication before and after painful procedures, as well as a local block prior to surgical extractions. The doctor is the only individual who performs any dental extractions, and we have purchased the best dental equipment for cleaning and extractions that is available. If you are thinking this should be standard at every practice that has patient is under anesthesia, it is not . Ask your facility exactly what they provide during the procedure and what they do not. These procedures allow us to ensure the best possible outcomes and safety for our fur babies. If the cost does not reflect this care, then they are most likely not receiving it.
Yes, anesthesia can be scary, but if we do our best to eliminate major concerns, then the risk of an anesthetic complication is still present, but minimal.
A lot to chew on….
Hopefully we answered some of your questions about dental health, dental evaluations, and the reasons the recommendations exist. Our desire is that we made it a little bit easier to digest. Please let us know how we can help keep your pet’s dental health up to par, and if you have any further questions. Now let’s get to brushing those teeth because puppy kisses are a must!