Dear Dr. Amy,
I am inquiring about having my dog’s teeth cleaned. Is this necessary? And how often or what should I be considering regarding this? Any information or tips would be helpful. I enjoy reading your column. Thank you.
Sincerely, Anne Linus
Thank you so much for your timely question and I am so glad you are enjoying the column! Actually, February is National Pet Dental Month, and dental disease is a hot topic for veterinarians at this time. Dental disease is a seriously underdiagnosed and underappreciated threat to many pets health, not only from the local effects of bad breath, gum irritation and sensitivity, and painful loose teeth, but the systemic effects through the bloodstream are vast. In my experiences, I have seen patients with repetitive urinary tract infections finally resolved with dental extractions and cleanings, and patients with visible abscesses in the pancreas and liver resolved between ultrasound rechecks. I am a firm believer that regular dental cleanings can greatly improve not only the quality of life in pets but longevity as well.
Dental cleanings do require general anesthesia as the use of an ultrasonic scaler is needed to clean the teeth, necessitating the placement of an endotracheal tube to protect the airway from bacterial contaminated water into the lower airways. A proper treatment will involve scaling, polishing, evaluating each tooth for signs of exposed roots, fractures, mobility, and completing extractions or radiographs if necessary. Often times other important findings such as malignant oral tumors present may need biopsy and possible resection.
Most pets over the age of 3 or 4 already have some level of periodontal disease, and regular cleanings earlier in life will reduce the amount of invasive and more involved extractions and oral surgery that usually occurs when patients wait to have a first procedure as a senior pet. The frequency of dental procedures will vary based on the level of prior preventative care such as brushing, dental chews, oral rinses, and type of diet, as well as the breed and size of the pet. Some patients may only need a cleaning every few years, while some older, smaller breeds may have accelerated periodontal disease requiring cleanings once or twice a year.
Of course, pre-anesthetic blood work is always a good precaution to screen for preexisting conditions such as kidney or liver disease, and a physical to screen for situations such as heart murmurs or other concurrent illnesses will help your veterinarian to create a tailored anesthetic protocol and pain management plan best for your pet. I encourage you to do the cleaning, and February may be a time your veterinary hospital could be offering discounts as an incentive. Most hospitals will be happy to do a pre-dental evaluation, treatment plan for cost, and determine if additional preemptive measures such as blood work or initiating oral antibiotics ahead of time could be appropriate. Antibiotics may be especially important to reduce risk to patients with advanced disease or immunocompromised conditions such as diabetes or heart murmurs.
For more info on this topic, please refer to my more detailed article about dental health online at: http://www.suite101.com/content/why-february-is-national-pet-dental-month-a339512