One of the most common health issues we veterinarians see in your pets is periodontal disease – inflammation, infection and decay of the teeth and surrounding oral tissues. It has been estimated that up to 85% of dogs and cats older than four years have periodontal concerns. The process begins with the formation of plaque – a transparent, adhesive fluid composed of mucin, sloughed cells from the oral cavity, and bacteria. Plaque will eventually precipitate mineral salts in the food forming tartar which cements itself to the teeth. This tartar irritates gingival (gum) tissue, changing the pH of the mouth and allowing bacteria to survive below the gum line. Eventually these bacteria begin to eat away at the tooth’s support structures, causing loose teeth, infection, and pain. The bacteria living in a rotten mouth can enter the bloodstream every time the animal bites or chews, putting the body’s defense system under considerable stress as it deals with an almost constant assault of bloodborne infection.
Veterinary dental care is extensive, and consists of physical examination, preoperative blood work, general anesthesia, scaling of tartar, probing of periodontal pockets, extractions, polishing, and post-operative care. While under anesthesia, the dog or cat is maintained on intravenous fluid therapy, and they are monitored closely by a dedicated technician who assesses heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and blood oxygen saturation levels. Pain management is achieved with a combination of premedication, local anesthesia, general anesthesia, and post-operative medication.
Our goal as veterinary health providers is for our patients to have mouths free of pain, infection and inflammation. In order to accomplish this, some extractions of teeth are often necessary. Owners are often concerned about the number of teeth extracted (side note – I secretly believe this is shared over cocktails, much like the number of stitches received from an injury: “My cat ran into a barbed wire fence and needed SEVEN stitches!”, and “My dog went to the vet and lost THIRTEEN teeth!!”). The bottom line is this: it is much better to have no tooth at all than to have an infected tooth with a root abscess. Dogs have LOTS of teeth – 40 in total, compared to our human mouths with 24.
Animals are evolutionarily programed to survive. They will find some way to keep eating despite chronic pain and inflammation from rotten, infected teeth. Once the teeth are treated appropriately, however, owners report that their pet acts more playful and energetic than they have in years. Chronic pain can affect immune physiology, appetite, temperament, and energy. When you look at it from that perspective, it is difficult to ignore the importance of oral health in our pets.
The month of February is Dental Health Month at many veterinary hospitals in Canada, including Green Acres Animal Hospital. We offer special pricing on our dental work during this month, and partner with veterinary diet manufacturers to provide our clientele with quality dental diets, treats, tools and information. Our goal is for all of our patients to have pain-free and healthy mouths, so please give us a call or come in for more information.