No one likes to go to the dentist, and dogs are no exception. But like humans, pets also need routine dental care. Imagine what your teeth would look like if you never brushed them. According to the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS), 80% of dogs over the age of three already have dental disease, making it the number one health issue in pets. While cavities are common in humans, dogs primarily develop tartar. Tartar doesn’t just lead to bad breath, it can lead to tooth loss, painful tooth root abscesses, difficulty eating, and other serious health problems.
So how does dental disease occur in pets? The combination of food, saliva, and bacteria leads to plaque formation. If this isn’t removed by brushing it mineralizes and becomes tartar. Tartar accumulation promotes bacterial infections below the gumline, which results in gum recession and destruction of the tooth’s support structures. Unless treated, tooth loss and pain occur. Bacteria can also enter the blood stream and spread to distant organs, like the kidney, liver and heart.
If your pet already has dental disease a complete dental cleaning is necessary. This involves an evaluation of the oral cavity and cleaning not only the surface of the teeth, but getting under the gumline where the majority of bacteria and tartar are found. After the teeth are cleaned, they are polished to smooth the roughened surfaces that were created by the cleaning. Without polishing, these rough surfaces allow bacteria and plaque to adhere easily and accelerates the recurrence of dental disease. Next an antibacterial solution is flushed below the gumline to remove any debris that has collected after the scaling and polishing. Lastly the entire mouth is checked again and dental x-rays may be used to assess the extent of the dental disease and the need for tooth extractions or additional work. While most humans can sit still and tolerate this type of thorough dental cleaning, most pets won’t. The only way to accomplish all of these necessary steps in animals is by using general anesthesia.
The thought of general anesthesia in our beloved canine companions can often be scarier than a trip to our own dentist. So what about a non-anesthetic dental cleaning? It is important to know that it is currently illegal for anyone other than a veterinarian or a supervised and trained veterinary technician to perform a dental cleaning. Even when done by a trained professional there are risks. Animals with dental disease often have painful mouths and may be uncomfortable or experience pain without anesthesia. The mechanical and manual instruments are quite sharp and therefore dangerous if an animal jerks or reacts suddenly to pain or mere manipulation. But the biggest issue with non-anesthetic dental cleanings is the fact that they typically only clean the surface of the tooth and are therefore only cosmetic, not able to really correct or address the underlying dental disease. For these reasons, both the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC) and the AVDS do not recommend non-anesthetic dental cleanings.
So how can you make the anesthetic dental safer? Pre-anesthetic bloodwork and chest x-rays are used to screen for underlying medical issues. Although anesthesia can never be risk free, the use of modern gas anesthetics such as sevoflurane and isoflurane, sophisticated monitoring equipment, as well as intravenous catheters and IV fluids have greatly improved the safety of general anesthesia. Your veterinarian will need to look at your dog’s individual risks versus the benefits of dental care and advise you appropriately.
Once your dog’s teeth are clean, routine dental care will maintain oral health and minimize the need for professional dental cleanings. Pets should have their teeth brushed daily using pet-safe toothpaste. While nothing beats regular brushing, oral rinses, dental diets and dental treats can help reduce the bacteria and plaque that lead to tartar formation. No matter what you choose, be consistent and see your veterinarian regularly for check ups. Remember early diagnosis and treatment are the best defense against serious dental
If you have any questions about dental disease in pets speak with your veterinarian. Don’t forget they are your best resource when it comes to your pet.