Dental disease is one of the most common medical problems in our family friends. Fortunately, it’s a problem that can be managed and treated. Of course, like dental problems in humans, it’s better to treat early. Periodontal disease affecting the gums and supporting tissues is quite common and is the leading cause of tooth loss in pets.
We have always participated in the National Pet Dental Health month in February, but due to high demand, we are now offering the same incentives in September. Of course, we perform professional dental cleanings all year round, but during Pet Dental Month we provide some additional incentives to encourage regular dental care. By having two per year, it makes it a bit easier for those pets that need professional cleaning more than once yearly. Dental disease causes far more than bad breath and we want to help keep your pet’s mouths healthy!
The Dental Cleaning Procedure
The dental cleaning or dental prophylaxis is a multifaceted procedure. In many aspects, it is quite similar to our own dental cleaning at our dentist’s office. The glaring differences are
1) the need for general anesthesia to perform a proper cleaning on our pets
2) the greater degree of periodontal disease typically found in our pets
After preanesthetic evaluation and the induction of a light plane of anesthesia, the teeth and oral cavity are examined closely for evidence of oral cancer, tooth damage, periodontal disease, etc..
Any fractured or visibly damaged teeth are evaluated and full mouth dental x-rays are performed to evaluate each tooth fully. Nearly 50% of dental disease occurs below the gum line and cannot be detected unless dental x-rays are performed!
If an extraction is required, a local anesthetic (Novacaine) is injected to numb the area prior to the extraction. The teeth are scaled to remove the heavy tartar and calculus using an ultrasonic scaler. This is followed by hand scaling to remove bacteria and plaque beneath the gum line (one important reason anesthesia is required!).
Once the teeth are clean, they are polished with a low speed handpiece to smooth the enamel surface to help resist tartar formation & attachment. Fluoride is then painted heavily on all tooth surfaces and allowed to soak for several minutes prior to rinsing. If elected, a barrier sealant is then applied to further slow tartar formation in the future. If indicated, antibiotics and pain medication are administered according to the patient’s needs. They are gently awakened from the light plane of anesthesia and may generally go home within a matter of hours.
The pictures on the right are examples of BEFORE and AFTER photographs of two patients receiving dental cleanings. Both have significant periodontal disease although both were fairly young at the time of these procedures. When you consider what dogs and cats are inclined to put in their mouths and their lack of personal hygiene, it’s not surprising their mouths get so bad so young. Could you imagine if you didn’t brush your teeth (much less floss!) for a few years? Not a pretty image!
An important note about Anesthesia-free dental cleanings:
A proper dental cleaning cannot be performed without anesthesia, it’s really that simple. Appropriate cleaning below the gum line, where periodontal disease starts, cannot be safely performed in an awake animal. The instruments are extremely sharp and require precise use to clean the teeth correctly and safely. Dental x-rays always require anesthesia. Given that 30 to 50% of all dental disease is hidden below the gum line, dental x-rays are an essential part of the dental procedure.
Without these techniques, a dental cleaning is little more than a cosmetic procedure with very short term benefits and little or no impact on actual dental health. Without proper cleaning and x-rays, it’s largely a waste of money and a disservice to the owner and the pet. Anesthesia free dental creates the impression the pet’s teeth are clean when in fact, the areas of greatest concern have been totally ignored.