Your pet jumps in your lap and stares into your face as you begin to smell a strong odor. You lean forward and realize it’s coming from your pet’s mouth! When was the last dental you wonder? When was the last time you brushed their teeth (if ever)? Dental disease is a very common and very serious condition. We will first talk about what dental disease is and how it effects your pets and then we will discuss what we can do about it.
First of all, dental disease is a very common finding in dogs and cats. One study found 60 % of dogs have periodontitis, or severe infection in the gums leading to tooth loss (Prevalence of Dental Disorders in Pet Dogs). Banfield did a study that found that almost 40% of the dogs they saw had plaque and almost 30% had periodontitis (Periodontal Literature Review). Basically, this is a very common condition found in dogs as well as cats. So, what are the issues with this?
The plaque sitting on the gum line is not just a chunk of food. There are millions of bacterial cells sitting on that plaque as well. Now, with the plaque sitting so close to the gum line, the irritation will cause the gums to bleed. This bleeding can give that bacteria a highway to the rest of the body. If it is just a small amount for a short time, the body does a pretty good job fighting off the bacteria. But if the pet is older or immunocompromised, they can have major issues with the kidneys and/or heart. Allowing the plaque to sit there for too long will cause more damage locally and throughout the body.
So, you understand that the teeth need to be cleaned and you ask the question you are most nervous about, “do they have to be put under to clean the teeth?” Our answer to that is Yes. Sadly, our pets will not allow us to probe their teeth while they are awake. We have to chip the plaque off the teeth as well as scale under the gums. Some people don’t even allow that! We completely understand about the nervousness that comes with anesthesia. Everyone knows a horror story about a pet not waking up. Let us be clear, that does happen. It is VERY rare, but it can happen. We have a study that looked at how many pets died under anesthesia at a day practice in France. Of 3500 dogs anesthetized, 48 did not wake up. Most of the dogs that did not wake up were unhealthy pets that were at a higher risk for anesthesia(kidney disease, liver disease, very old). Of 2600 dogs that were healthy, only 3 did not wake. That’s a 0.12% risk! (Risk of Anesthetic Mortality in Dogs and Cats…) Most dogs and cats that get dental cleanings are very healthy. Now, of course we would love for the anesthetic death numbers to say 0 deaths, but that will realistically never happen. Animals as well as people will sometimes have unexplained reactions. However, if we compare the high percentage of pets that have dental disease to the low percentage that something will happen under anesthesia, the risk of the anesthesia is well worth it to prevent more problems from dental disease.
Hopefully we have put your mind to ease somewhat about the anesthetic risks of dentals. If you are still hesitant, we understand, we just want to give you as much information as possible to help you make the best decision for your pet.
Once the teeth are cleaned, what can we do to help prevent the tartar build up? The best thing to do is to brush the teeth. This goes for dogs AND cats. Once we say this in the room, we usually get a couple chuckles. Some pets hate having their teeth brushed. Some animals handle it pretty well. The biggest mistake people make is trying to brush all the teeth in the first sitting. Start out with the top quarter of your pet’s mouth one night and give them a carrot once you are done. The next night (at the same time) do another quarter and give a carrot. Slowly work up to the whole mouth in one sitting over a week or two, depending on your pet’s response. If you are consistent and do it the same time every night, your pet will learn to remind you when it is time for their tooth brushing because they get their treat at the end. It has to be every night, once a week does no good.
There are a couple other options that we like also. There is a dental rinse that you squirt into your pets mouth after they eat and they swish it around to help clean the teeth. The other option is a dental diet. Dental diets work in a couple ways. They might work chemically (using cleaning compounds to clean the teeth) or mechanically (using the kibble to physically clean the tooth as the pet chews). We prefer the mechanical diet that is made by Purina. The tooth pushes through about 75% of the kibble before it breaks. That allows the kibble to physically scrape the tooth. This is an ideal diet for smaller dogs.
The risk of ignoring your pet’s tartar is far greater than the anesthetic risk of cleaning your pet’s teeth. Once those teeth are cleaned, there is lots we can do to keep the teeth as clean as possible and not have to do the dental for a while.
We appreciate your time and please let us know if you have any concerns.