Are anesthetic dental cleanings REALLY necessary or even SAFE for my pet, or why non anesthetic dentals for pets are a waste of time and money!Dr. Annmarie Hill on October 11, 2010 in Cats, Diseases & Illnesses, Dogs, Vet Care in Huntington Beach-Progressive Medicine | 10 Comments »
Preventing tooth decay not only avoids tremendous pain for your pet, but it adds to the quality of your pet’s overall health in many ways, while saving you money at the same time. Most people will be a little puzzled at this point, asking “How can so much of my pet’s health be directly related to their dental health?” Making sure your pets have a “Colgate smile” is the least of the benefits you gain. Here are some basic facts about the disease process with respect to your pet’s dental health. Later we will discuss what can be done to avoid this type of dental disease, correct existing tooth and gum disease and maintain good dental care now and in the future:
•The cause of tooth decay is bacteria that clings to your pet’s teeth and hardens into calculus (tartar), or mineralization of plaque on your pet’s teeth.
• Controlling plaque build-up is the main way to avoid hardened calculus on the teeth and under the gumline.
•What is plaque?
•Plaque is a sticky, colorless film of bacteria that forms on your pet’s teeth much like a spider web. It’s that nasty slime on your teeth in the morning that you can scrape off with your fingernail that makes your teeth feel rough until you brush them.
•Hardened plaque is what we refer to as calculus (tartar) which occurs within 48 HOURS of the bacteria attaching to the tooth enamel that can’t be easily scraped off by your fingernail requiring profesional dental scaling.
•Bacteria causes tooth decay and periodontal (gum disease); the primary cause of tooth loss!
•Bacteria in the mouth can not only lead to tooth loss but also painful mouth tumors
•Painful benign tumors which make eating difficult; if not impossible
•Painful malignant (cancerous) tumors can ultimately shorten your pet’s life
PLEASE CONSIDER THE FACT THAT YOUR PET CAN’T TELL YOU WHAT IS HURTING THEM. Of course, some animals are more expressive than others but the source of their pain is often difficult for pet owner’s to pinpoint. Although there are some signs you can use to determine what is hurting your pet, prevention is always the best course of action when it comes to dental heath. More often that not, animals conceal their pain much more than humans. This behavior has been said to be a survival instinct so they do not appear vulnerable to their predator in the wild. Here are a few tips to help you determine if your pet is suffering from dental disease:
According to the American Veterinary Dental College these are signs of oral and dental diseases in dogs and cats:
- Bad breath (halitosis).
- Loose teeth or teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar.
- Your pet shies away from you when you touch the mouth area.
- Drooling or dropping food from the mouth, or pawing at the mouth or only chewing on one side of the mouth
- Bleeding from the mouth.
- Loss of appetite or loss of weight (this combination can result from diseases of many organs, and early veterinary examination is important).
One fact remains constant; dental and periodontal disease hurts and tremendously reduces the quality and length of a pet’s life!
This information may be obvious to most people…here’s what may not be so obvious: Bacteria enters the blood stream and damages major organs over time. The most common organs affected by oral bacteria are the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs and pancreas.
What does this mean to you and your pet? A pet’s life is shortened by such diseases, their quality of life is tremendously reduced because of the pain they are chronically in and you as the pet owner are burdened by not only the difficulty of seeing your pet endure these issues but the associated veterinary costs which accompany the long-term treatment of these secondary diseases. Early routine dental care will prevent costly and potentially uncomfortable surgical extractions in the future (remember getting your wisdom teeth removed? We do the same thing as veterinarians when teeth and the associated gums and bone of the jaw are infected beyond repair by surgically sectioning and removing the affected teeth and closing up the wounds via gingival flaps (using the pets gums as a natural band-aid to cover over the hole where the tooth was removed from). Sometimes these diseased teeth have even eaten through the thin bony plate into the nasal cavity causing an oronasal fistula evidenced by chronic sneezing and/or nose bleeds.
You’re probably saying, “get to the point Dr. Hill: what do I need to do now to avoid these issues?” Well I’m glad you asked. Here is my expert recommendation as your veterinarian to make both you and your pet happy and have more time together:
Make sure to bring your pet to the Animal Care Center of Huntington Beach or your local veterinarian at least once per year for a full dental examination and dental cleaning as 70-80% of pets by the age of 3 have advanced tooth and gum disease (periodontal disease). The dental cleaning will remove calculus on the teeth and above the gumline with an ultrasonic scaler and a high speed polisher will smooth the enamel after this process to ensure the bacteria cannot just return to attach to a roughened surface. The cleaning must be performed professionally and have appropriate monitoring of the oxygen levels in the blood, heart rate, body temperature (all pets are on heating pads here at ACCHB), blood pressure and depth of anesthesia by a licensed veterinary technician and/or veterinarian. Here is our professional dental equipment at the Animal Care Center of Huntington Beach (a high speed ultrasonic dental scaler and polisher by DentalAire):
•We perform anesthetic dental cleanings under general anesthesia for many important reasons
•We’re able to remove more bacteria by getting above and below the gumline
•Our ultrasonic scaler is intense and must be carefully and evenly controlled over the surface of the tooth
•Awake (non anesthetized) pets do not tolerate the dental probe/explorer and scaler to the degree required to effectively remove the more stubborn calculus and also measure the degree of potential periodontal disease.
•Any necessary extractions or periodontal repair can be done under one anesthesia event
•Why we DON’T do dental cleanings without anesthesia (aka Non-Anesthetic Dental Cleanings or Anesthesia free dental cleanings)
•I feel it is simply wasted money and gives the pet owner a false sense of effective calculus (bacteria) removal and an anesthetized pet allows for a full and complete oral exam for any abnormal masses under the tongue in or near the larynx, tonsils, esophagus etc.; Something that simply can not be done on an awake pet. We also can’t ask them to gently bite down on the x-ray film to get appropriate dental films to evaluate the bone of the jaw and the ligaments that hold the tooth firmly in place.
•I base my professional opinion on not only my training and experience but also on what the #1 authority on veterinary dental care says about non-anesthetic dental cleanings and the importance of veterinarians performing dental cleanings under anesthesia.
•Our fluoride treatment can stay on the teeth for the necessary period of time without the pet ingesting the fluoride…it is then safely rinsed out of your pet’s mouth to avoid ingestion and potential fluoride toxicity.
We don’t gamble with your pet’s health! We do a blood panel before surgery to make sure your pet is healthy enough to be placed under anesthesia evaluating your pets liver, kidney, electrolytes, blood sugar and red blood cells (the cells that carry oxygen to the major organs) and white blood cells. We also require IV catheters and fluids during the procedure to be absolutely certain we have venous access in the highly unlikely event of an emergency and to maintain blood pressure during anesthesia. We also require a full pre-anesthetic exam so that we can listen to your pets heart and lungs, palpate their organs and lymph nodes and address overall health. This is also an opportunity for us to evaluate the mouth and teeth to determine an appropriate anesthetic plan and dental plan to clean the teeth thoroughly, and discuss any concerns or questions you as the pet parent may have.
Maintain home dental care in the following ways
•Brush your pet’s teeth on a daily basis (ask us how to get the correct tools and techniques to accomplish this)
•Use pet toothpaste
•Veterinary Dental Diets
•Reduce the amount of bacteria in the mouth to promote systemic health
•Clinically proven to reduce plaque, stain and tartar buildup
•Reduces bad breath
•Added antioxidants to control cell oxidation and promote a healthy immune system
•Awarded the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) Seal of Acceptance for helping reduce both plaque and tartar accumulation
•The texture and shape of the kibble produce a gentle abrasive effect on the teeth during chewing; this mechanical action provides a brushing effect to reduce the accumulation of dental plaque and calculus
•Royal Canin Veterinary Diet® canine dry is designed to reduce the accumulation of dental plaque and calculus while providing a complete and balanced diet for the nutritional needs of adult small and large breed dogs.
Some other blog posts on the subject you might want to visit:
Will My Dog Hate me is a great blog written by a human owned by a dog just like YOU with fears and concerns about anesthesia and the costs of dental cleanings.
Dr. Patty Khuly a veterinary colleague of mine definitely doesn’t mince words in her thoughts and feelings about the importance of dentistry performed under anesthesia by a licensed veterinarian.
Lastly, dentistry is illegal if NOT performed under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian, but hey if the next time you’re at your hair salon (aka your groomer) you wanna save a buck and have them clean your teeth while you’re there then by all means do so ;-). Just don’t say I didn’t warn ya. You go to your dentist to have your teeth cleaned. ’nuff said.
I can go on and on about what pet owners can do at home to improve the oral hygiene of their pets, however annual oral exams by your veterinarian, daily brushing, dental chews and a simple dental diet covers 90% of what is needed to dramatically improve the quality of your pet’s life by making sure they’re not in pain. After all, with good dental health, your furry son or daughter can chew your favorite Prada shoes or remote control much more effectively for years and years to come ;-).