Imagine what your mouth would feel like if you never brushed your teeth or went to the dentist. For many dogs and cats, this is a painful reality. According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, more than 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have dental disease by the age of 3. Dental (or periodontal) disease is the most frequently diagnosed health problem in pets.
Common signs of dental disease include:
- Yellow or brown buildup (tartar) on the teeth
- Red, swollen, or bleeding gums
- Bad breath
- Excessive drooling
- Changes in eating or chewing habits
- Pawing at the face
- Loose teeth
Even if your dog or cat doesn’t have these symptoms, we recommend that you have a veterinarian evaluate your pet’s dental health at least once a year. Bacteria and food debris accumulate around the teeth and, if left unchecked, will lead to deterioration of the soft tissue and bone surrounding the teeth. This decay can result in irreversible periodontal disease, tooth loss, and possibly expensive oral surgery.
Dental disease can also affect other organs in the body: Bacteria in the mouth can get into the bloodstream and cause serious infections in the kidneys, liver, lungs, and heart. If these problems aren’t caught and treated quickly enough, they can result in death. A physical exam combined with appropriate laboratory work can determine if infection in the mouth has spread.
Schedule your pet’s dental exam today! We can also show you how to brush your pet’s teeth and recommend foods and treats that will help combat plaque and tartar buildup.
Is a general anesthetic required for a dental cleaning?
Here at Vancouver Veterinary Hospital, we perform dental cleanings under general anesthetic for numerous reasons. Patient safety and comfort is of upmost importance. As well, anesthesia enables us to clean and evaluate under the patient’s gum line.
Owners of pets naturally are concerned when anesthesia is required for their pet. However, performing non-professional dental services on an unanesthetized pet is inappropriate for the following reasons:
1. Dental tartar is firmly adhered to the surface of the teeth. Scaling to remove tartar is accomplished using ultrasonic and sonic power scalers, plus hand instruments that must have a sharp working edge to be used effectively. Even slight head movement by the patient could result in injury to the oral tissues of the patient, and the operator may be bitten when the patient reacts.
2. Professional dental scaling includes scaling the surfaces of the teeth both above and below the gingival margin (gum line), followed by dental polishing. The most critical part of a dental scaling procedure is scaling the tooth surfaces that are within the gingival pocket (the subgingival space between the gum and the root), where periodontal disease is active. Because the patient cooperates, dental scaling of human teeth performed by a professional trained in the procedures can be completed successfully without anesthesia. However, access to the subgingival area of every tooth is impossible in an unanesthetized canine or feline patient. Removal of dental tartar on the visible surfaces of the teeth has little effect on a pet’s health, and provides a false sense of accomplishment. The effect is purely cosmetic.
3. Inhalation anesthesia using a cuffed endotracheal tube provides three important advantages… the cooperation of the patient with a procedure it does not understand, elimination of pain resulting from examination and treatment of affected dental tissues during the procedure, and protection of the airway and lungs from accidental aspiration.
4. A complete oral examination, which is an important part of a professional dental scaling procedure, is not possible in an unanesthetized patient. The surfaces of the teeth facing the tongue cannot be examined, and areas of disease and discomfort are likely to be missed.
Safe use of an anesthetic or sedative in a dog or cat requires evaluation of the general health and size of the patient to determine the appropriate drug and dose, and continual monitoring of the patient.
Our veterinarians are trained in all of these procedures. Prescribing or administering anesthetic or sedative drugs by a non-veterinarian can be very dangerous, and is illegal. Although anesthesia will never be 100% risk-free, modern anesthetic and patient evaluation techniques used in veterinary hospitals minimize the risks, and millions of dental scaling procedures are safely performed each year in veterinary hospitals.