May 21 2014

Dental Care FAQs

Why must my pet undergo anaesthesia to have his teeth cleaned?  Can’t the groomer just scrape the tartar off of his teeth?

Plaque is a transparent, adhesive fluid that will eventually harden mineral salts from food to form tartar.  During the scaling and cleaning process we worry that small pieces of tartar could be inhaled by the patient causing a lung infection.  For this reason, “non-anesthetic” cleaning is NEVER recommended. Anesthesia allows us to place a breathing tube in the windpipe to prevent infection of the lungs.  Secondly, the removal of plaque and tartar from below the gum line is an important part of the cleaning.  This is just not possible to do effectively in an awake pet.  Lastly, if the teeth are not properly polished after they are scaled, the surface of the tooth will be rough and actually results in more surface area to which plaque and tartar can adhere.

 I am worried about my 13 year old dog undergoing anesthesia for a dental procedure. Is it possible for a dog to be “too old” to benefit from professional dental care?

We truly believe that ‘age is not a disease’, and that mature pets that are otherwise healthy are able to tolerate anesthesia well.  A pet that is older is more likely to have more severe periodontal disease and thus more pain.  These animals still need care in order to maintain the quality of their lives.

We strongly encourage our senior patients to have a pre-anesthetic blood screen performed.  This helps us to identify underlying problems that aren’t yet recognizable by outward symptoms. If a problem is found, we can try to resolve it before allowing the pet to undergo anesthesia.

Our practice uses balanced anesthesia, by which a combination of injectable and inhalant gas anesthetic agents are used, in addition to pre-medications that sedate and relax your pet while provide pre-emptive pain control, and local anesthetics to minimize pain response even at a subconscious level.  This minimizes any adverse effects by using less of each individual component.

Your pet is monitored closely by tracking pulse rate and quality, oxygen saturation, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and temperature.  This way, veterinarians and technicians are able to detect abnormalities and initiate therapy quickly and effectively.

Pets undergoing anesthetic in our practice receive fluid therapy by IV catheter during anesthesia to maintain blood volume and pressure.  This protects sensitive brain and kidney cells, and helps the body rid itself of the anesthetic drugs.  Finally, thermal support such as heating pads and warm bean bags are used to prevent hypothermia during anesthesia which can alter the rate at which drugs are processed by the body.

Why is cleaning my pet’s teeth more expensive than cleaning my teeth?  Why is it more expensive than it was a few years ago?

The cost of dental care for pets has certainly increased as the quality of anesthesia, cleaning, and services have increased.  Veterinary dentistry requires special equipment like a blood pressure monitor, a fluid pump, an ultrasonic scaler, and a specialized drill to help divide multi-rooted teeth for safe extraction.  Much of this equipment is not necessary when human teeth are cleaned because we are not undergoing anesthesia.  Also, in human dentistry, dental care is aimed at preventative cleaning before hardly any tartar has accumulated.  Pets that do not receive early or preventive care commonly require dental intervention that is much more extensive.

The doctor has recommended extraction of some of my pet’s teeth – will he still be able to eat without them?

Yes!  Our goal is that our patients have mouths that are free of infection and pain.  It is much better to have no tooth at all than to have an infected tooth with a root abscess or a painful broken tooth.  We have many dog and cat patients that are able to eat a regular diet with few or even no teeth!  Referral to a veterinary dentist may be an option in certain cases and can be discussed with your veterinarian.

It doesn’t seem as though my pet is in any pain despite broken teeth and inflamed gums.  Wouldn’t she stop eating if she was in pain?

Some pets will stop eating altogether when their teeth, bone, and gums hurt badly enough.  The vast majority, however, will find some tactic to keep eating.  They may chew on the other side of their mouths or swallow their kibble whole.  Pets have a strong instinct to survive no matter what discomfort they feel.  Some symptoms of periodontal disease can be quite vague, and it is only after a proper dental treatment that owners report that their pet is acting more energetic and playful than they have in years!

How often will the teeth need to be cleaned?

This is a difficult question to answer as every patient is different.  As a general rule, smaller dogs require more dental care than larger dogs, partially due to the crowding of teeth in the mouth.  Larger dogs tend to be more prone to broken teeth.  Some cat diseases are associated with an increased occurrence of dental disease. Just like in people, the amount of intensive dental care that an individual requires in their lifetime varies greatly – genetics plays a big role too.  However, all of us can benefit from dental care, and our pets are no different.  We can help extend the interval between dental procedures by brushing our pet’s teeth, and by choosing appropriate diets and treats.

 How can periodontal disease hurt my pet?

Pets with periodontal disease are in chronic pain, and chronic pain can affect your pet’s appetite, attitude, and immune physiology.  Every time the pet chews they are likely exposing their body systems to a shower of bacteria from the mouth, putting them at risk of infection and inflammation.  Our pets deserve pain-free mouths – please talk to your veterinarian about how we can help achieve this.

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