The mouth is connected to the rest of the body! This may be one of the most important arguments for good dental health: what affects oral health can have significant impact the rest of the body.
The importance of good dental health in our pets has been slow to follow our own lead, but dentistry has become a major part of any pet wellness program. Starting from puppy and kittenhood, training your pet to let you brush its teeth and examine its mouth is of utmost importance. Familiarizing yourself with your cat or dog’s dental anatomy is equally important. We think nothing of flossing daily and brushing at least a couple times a day. Think about doing without these for a week, and how your mouth would feel as a result, not to mention the effect it would have on anyone around you.
We like to start discussing dental health at the first visit. Yes puppy and kitten teeth will shed just like our own so it’s not as imperative to keep these ones clean. But if you train your new pet to accept daily (YES DAILY) brushing as part of a normal routine, it will be easier to keep those adult teeth clean when they erupt.
There are a variety of products available to help control plaque and calculus- water additives to reduce the bacterial biofilm on the teeth, toys and treats that encourage chewing and gnawing, special diets, like Hill’s T/D and MediCal Dental Formula, for example. But when it comes right down to it, nothing beats a good ol’ regular brushing. I have regularly used one of our patients, Bob, as an example. Bob has had his teeth brushed every day for 15 years. His teeth are as shiny and white as a one year old, and at last count, he had 39 of the 40 originals- he lost one to wear normal wear.
When a dental cleaning is recommended, it’s because we’ve noticed significant calculus accumulating on the teeth, significant gingivitis, discharge from the gumline that could indicate a tooth root infection, or enamel erosions- a common problem in cats. All of these problems can result in general health problems if left untreated- not only bad breath, but also bone loss around the roots of affected teeth, difficulty or discomfort chewing, and bacterial infection that can spread from the mouth to the rest of the body, including the heart and kidneys.
An effective, thorough dental cleaning will require a general anaesthetic- we can’t ask your pets to lie back, keep still and relax while we poke around in their mouths. We follow the same pre-anaesthetic protocol as for any surgery, including blood tests and IV fluids. With your pet safely anaesthetized, we will do a thorough oral examination, grading each individual tooth for calculus, gingivitis, pockets around the root that indicate degeneration of the ligaments that anchor the root in its socket (alveolus), and evidence of instability, wear, erosions or cavities.
When we find a tooth that appears unhealthy, a dental radiograph (x-ray) will give us additional information that will help us decide if the tooth can be saved with thorough cleaning, or if it’s unsalvageable and must be extracted. Followup x-rays will ensure the entire root has been extracted. If extractions are necessary, we use the same medications to numb the nerves as are used in human dentistry (nerve block) prior to extracting the tooth- even though the patient is anaesthetized, this will make for a smoother recovery.
If any extractions have been done, your pet will be sent home with medication to help control pain and a course of antibiotics. We’ll also try to book an appointment for 10-14 days down the line for a quick recheck to make sure everything is healing well.
Sometimes we come across a tooth that is damaged but can be saved with more advanced dental treatments than we are capable of. In a case like this, we can set up a referral with one of the dental specialists at West Coast Veterinary Dental Services.