Healthy Teeth and Gums are Essential
Dental health is as important in animals as it is in people. Proper oral hygiene for animals is an essential part of the overall health of the animal. Dogs and cats get tooth and gum disease similar to that in people. They tend to accumulate greater quantities of calculus or tartar than do most humans and this leads to gum disease or gingivitis. This tartar contains large amounts of bacteria which, when combined with inflamed gums, creates a special hazard for the other organs in the body. Dental infections can spread to other organs in the body through the bloodstream.
Why does my pet need to have his/her teeth cleaned by my veterinarian? Once you or your veterinarian notices plaque or tartar accumulation, it is time for a professional cleaning. Do not wait. Attached to the tartar are bacteria irritating gum tissues, causing gingivitis (“grade 1 dental disease”). When treated, the inflammation will resolve. When gingivitis is left untreated, it will progress to periodontitis, which is non-curable, and will require much more intensive and long term therapy.
How often does my pet need a professional cleaning by my veterinarian? It depends on the degree of plaque and tartar accumulation. Monthly, you need to examine your pet's teeth. Look for an accumulation of yellow or brown material at the area where the tooth meets the gum line especially over the cheek teeth and canines. The intervals between teeth cleaning procedures will depend on how often you can brush your pet's teeth. Once or twice daily brushing is optimum. If you cannot brush the teeth, then your pet will probably need at least one, and possibly more, teeth cleaning visits yearly.
Why do you have to use anesthesia to clean my pet's teeth? Anesthesia is necessary when performing teeth cleaning. Anesthesia provides three important functions: immobilization in order to clean below the gum line (our pets do not understand they need to be still and “open wide”), pain control, and protection of your pet’s airway via an endotracheal tube (so dangerous bacteria and debris do not enter the lungs and airways).
I am concerned about the anesthesia. Is it safe? While no anesthetic procedure is risk-free, we take every effort to minimize such risk. We use the safest of anesthetic agents, including isoflurane gas and propofol, an injectable anesthetic also used in humans. Dogs and cats are given pre-operative tests depending on their age and condition to qualify them for anesthesia. Finally all animals are monitored while anesthetized with a nurse anesthetist, pulse oximetry, capnometer (CO2 monitor), and electrocardiogram. All patients receive preoperative pain medication, IV fluids, heat support, intraoperative local anesthesia if extractions are performed, and postoperative pain medication as needed. Continuous pre, intra, and postoperative monitoring are provided by our nurses and doctors.
What steps are involved in the teeth cleaning at your hospital?
1. general exam by nurse and doctor before anesthesia, pre-operative blood work
2. oral exam by nurse and doctor under anesthesia
3. gross calculus removal
4. subgingival (below the gum line) scaling, root planing, curettage where indicated
5. tooth polishing and irrigation
6. fluoride application
7. post cleaning exam by nurse and doctor
8. x-rays if needed
9. dental charting for the medical record
10. additional therapy as necessary (extractions, antibiotics, perioceutics)
11. home care instructions
12. toothpaste, toothbrush, and follow up appointment (to see how well you are performing home care) are included
How much does a tooth cleaning procedure cost? There are four levels of teeth cleanings at our hospital. Fee range is based on the severity of your pet’s dental disease, plus costs for preoperative testing, anesthesia, necessary therapy, and medication. The doctor or staff will be happy to give you a treatment plan and estimate once we have evaluated your dog or cat with a proper dental examination. As discussed above, waiting will only allow the existing dental disease to worsen. This will result in deeper infection, risk of periodontitis, greater discomfort to your pet, and a much longer (and more expensive!) dental procedure down the road. Proper home care can greatly lengthen the interval between necessary teeth cleanings, thereby significantly reducing the amount of money spent on dental care.
When do I have to start worrying about dental problems with my pet? As soon as puppy or kitten teeth emerge, it’s time to start brushing. Although baby teeth are replaced with adult teeth, the puppy or kitten gets used to the brushing procedure which continues for life.
What can be done if my pet has periodontal disease? Periodontal disease occurs when tooth support structures are affected by infection. In the beginning stages, cleaning above and below the gum line as well as removal of calculus attached to the tooth will help restore periodontal health. In advanced cases, either periodontal surgery or extractions are performed. Antibiotics given monthly also help to control the progression of periodontal disease.
The AVDC (American Veterinary Dental College) has an official statement against the use of “anesthesia-free” dental cleanings marketed by some budget clinics. Such cleanings are ineffective and are against standard of care.