February is Dental Health Month!
February is National Dental Health month for pets. Nearly all pets need professional dental cleanings periodically. But what does this mean and what happens when your pet has his or her teeth cleaned?
Let’s start with why your pet should have his teeth cleaned. Periodontal disease is common and present to some degree in over 70% of all dogs and cats over the age of three. Bad breath, drooling, reluctance to eat, and pawing at the mouth are all signs of serious dental disease. But these signs are not always present and may not appear until disease is severe. Dogs and cats are good at hiding pain, and serious problems may not be obvious. Loose teeth, broken teeth and inflamed gums are painful. Just because your pet is still eating and acting normal does not mean he is not in pain. Dental disease should not be ignored. It can lead to tooth loss as well as infection that may spread to the heart, kidneys and liver. Dental disease is not always readily visible either. The part of the tooth we can see called the crown may appear perfectly normal, but there may be disease present below the gumline. This is why a thorough exam of a pet’s mouth under sedation is so important.
Anesthesia is often the scariest part of having your pet’s teeth cleaned, but it is necessary and we do all we can to keep it as safe as possible. We need to be able to look at every tooth and we need to be able to probe the gums for pockets and to check all surfaces of the teeth; therefore, your pet needs to be asleep. Can you imagine trying to see all of this in an excited squirmy pet? Sedated dental procedures are a must. The risks of complications from dental disease far outweigh any risks from anesthesia for most pets.
Before anesthesia, your pet is given a brief exam and blood tests to make sure he or she is healthy enough for anesthesia. Your pet is given an injectable sedative to relax her, and an IV catheter is placed. Additional sedation is given, and a tube is placed in the windpipe to deliver gas anesthesia and oxygen to keep your pet asleep during the dental cleaning and to protect the airway from water, blood and bacteria during the cleaning process.
Once asleep, the teeth are probed and any problems noted. X-rays of all the teeth are taken so we can see the roots and surrounding bone. Any loose, infected or fractured teeth with evidence of bone loss or damage to the pulp are surgically extracted and the gums are sutured with dissolving stitches. A veterinary technician then uses and ultrasonic scaling tool to remove plaque and tartar and the teeth are polished with paste very much like what your dentist uses.
We want all our patients to keep all their teeth, but of course, this is not realistic. In many cases, surgical extraction is in the best interest of the pet to remove painful, fractured, loose, or infected teeth. We only take a tooth if it is absolutely necessary. We also know it makes no sense to leave a bad tooth in the mouth as it will only continue to cause pain and problems in the future.
Early dental cleanings and home care save not only your pet’s teeth but your money as well! It is far less expensive and takes much less time to clean teeth with mild tartar than to deal with a mouth that has severe periodontal disease.
Once the teeth have been cleaned, continuing dental care at home is very important in keeping your pet’s mouth healthy. Let’s work together to keep bright shiny smiles for all our cats and dogs!
This blog brought to you by The Patton Veterinary Hospital serving Red Lion, York and the surrounding communities.