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What Happens During A Dental Cleaning At NSVC?
Has your pet been scheduled for a dental cleaning? Find out what to expect on your pet's visit here.
Why Dental Care?
Would you let years go by between visits to the dentist? Probably not! Your pet’s dental health is just as important to his or her overall health as your dental health is to yours. To help veterinarians and their teams provide excellent dental care for dogs and cats and educate pet owners about the importance of proper dental care throughout their pets’ lives, the American Animal Hospital Association has developed the AAHA Dental Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats. Major highlights of these guidelines are covered in this article.
Did You Know?
Dental care of dogs and cats is one of the most commonly overlooked areas of pet health care. In fact, a recent AAHA study showed that approximately two-thirds of pet owners do not provide the dental care that is recommended as essential by veterinarians. What’s more, the American Veterinary Dental Society reports that 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats show signs of oral disease by age three.
Dental disease doesn’t affect just the mouth. It can lead to more serious health problems including heart, lung and kidney disease, which makes it all the more important that you provide your pets with proper dental care from the start.
Bad Breath? Could Be Periodontal Disease
Fido’s dog breath and Tabby’s tuna breath are not normal and should not be ignored – they could be indicative of an oral problem, and the sooner you have it treated by your veterinarian (and learn to care for it yourself), the sooner you and your pet can smile proudly.
Periodontal disease is an infection of the tissue surrounding the teeth that takes hold in progressive stages. It starts out as a bacterial film called plaque. The bacteria attach to the teeth. When the bacteria die they can be calcified by calcium in saliva. This forms a hard, rough substance called tartar or calculus which allows more plaque to accumulate. Initially, plaque is soft and brushing or chewing hard food and toys can dislodge it. If left to spread, plaque can lead to gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums, causing them to become red and swollen and to bleed easily.
As plaque and calculus develop below the gum line, professional cleaning will be needed to help manage it. If the plaque and tartar buildup continues unchecked, infection can form around the root of the tooth.
In the final stages of periodontal disease, the tissues surrounding the tooth are destroyed, the bony socket holding the tooth in erodes and the tooth becomes loose. This is a very painful process for your four-legged friend, but these problems can be averted before they even start.
Dental Care at the Veterinary Practice
There are two critical components of your pet’s veterinary dental care: oral examinations and dental cleanings. Veterinary dental care begins at the puppy and kitten life stage. AAHA recommends that veterinarians evaluate puppies and kittens for problems related to the deciduous (baby) teeth, missing or extra teeth, swellings and oral development. As your pet ages, your veterinarian will look for developmental anomalies, the accumulation of plaque and tartar, periodontal disease and oral tumors.
Veterinarians can perform a basic oral examination on patients that are awake. However, a short-lasting anesthetic is required in order to provide a complete and thorough examination as well as dental cleanings.
The AAHA Dental Care Guidelines recommend regular oral examinations and dental cleanings, under general anesthesia, for all adult dogs and cats. AAHA recommends these procedures at least annually starting at one year of age for cats and small-breed dogs, and at two years of age for large-breed dogs.
The AAHA guidelines further recommend the following:
Whenever anesthesia is needed, special considerations are taken to help ensure the safety of your pet. Your veterinarian will thoroughly examine your pet to make sure she’s healthy enough to undergo anesthesia. Depending on your pet’s age and general physical condition, your veterinarian may also run blood, urine, and x-ray tests to check for any dangerous heart, kidney, or other conditions. Though there is some risk associated with any medical procedure, modern anesthesia is usually safe, even for older pets.
During anesthesia, the monitoring and recording of your pet’s vital signs (such as body temperature, heart rate, and respiration, as well as other important factors) is important. This helps ensure the safety of your pet while undergoing anesthesia.
Radiographs (x-rays) of the teeth are essential to completely evaluate your pet’s oral health. Since 70% of the tooth is hidden below the gum line, x-rays aid the veterinarian greatly in detecting abnormalities that cannot be detected under examination alone. X-rays can confirm tooth abnormalities, disease, damage and infection below the gum line that may require extraction.
Veterinarians are advised to use similar instruments as human dentists to remove plaque and calculus from your pet’s teeth. The most important area to clean is just below the gum line where plaque and tartar can do the most damage and can result in periodontal disease. This cannot be properly done without general anesthesia. To smooth out any scratches in the tooth enamel after scaling, polishing with a special paste is also recommended.
The application of an anti-plaque substance, such as a fluoride treatment and/or a barrier sealant is also advised. This can help strengthen and desensitize teeth as well as decrease future plaque.
Your pet’s dental care doesn’t rest with your veterinarian alone. On the contrary, you as a pet owner play the most pivotal role in helping ensure your pet’s dental health through regular teeth brushing and home care. There are many types of dental hygiene products on the market for pets- chews, rinses, sealants, and diets- that can be greatly beneficial when used consistently. Ask our veterinary team what products we carry and recommend and then try to set aside a few minutes every day to commit to your pet’s dental health.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's) about dental disease:
Q: How can I prevent bad breath and periodontal disease?
A: The same way that we do for ourselves: brushing the teeth every day. The good news is that you only need to devote 5 seconds a day (per pet) to this. Brush the outside surfaces (towards the lips and cheeks) using circular motions with a soft bristled toothbrush. Finger brushes with short rubber bristles are not the most effective –we recommend using a bristled toothbrush such as an extra soft children’s toothbrush or one designed specifically for pets.
Q: How often should I have my pet's teeth professionally cleaned?
A: Just like their humans, different individuals have different dental needs and many breeds are genetically prone to more dental disease. A large breed dog that eats large kibble diet, gets his/her teeth brushed daily and is provided chew toys and dental chews for fun, may only need their teeth cleaned every year or two. A toy breed that eats soft food and never gets their teeth brushed may need them every six months, and still have periodontal problems. As a rule of thumb, we recommend most pets having scheduled yearly cleanings.
Q: I worry about general anesthesia for my pet. Can the teeth be cleaned without anesthesia?
A: The visible tooth surfaces can be scaled and cleaned on an awake pet, but this is only cosmetic by making the teeth look better. We call this "tooth grooming". It provides almost no health benefit over a simple tooth brushing to remove plaque. Anesthesia-free dentistry is not recommended because it can injure your pet's gingiva (gums) if s/he jumps or moves while a sharp metal instrument is being used, and it can make your pet afraid to allow oral manipulations and regular home tooth brushing that IS of huge value. Anesthesia-free dentistry simply makes the teeth look pretty while rampant periodontal disease and infection can continue under the surface. Anesthesia allows your pet a complete, pain-free examination of sensitive areas, probing for periodontal pockets and exploring for dental lesions. Most importantly, it allows periodontal cleaning and x-rays of the tooth tissue under the gumline, which is the area that actually improves periodontal health instead of just addressing how the teeth look.
Q: My pet fights me when I try to brush the teeth. Am I doing something wrong?
A: It is important to NOT fight with your pet to brush the teeth; your pet will win that struggle and an unpleasant battle is not the relationship that we want with our canine and feline friends. Pets can be conditioned to allow it by starting very slowly and gently as you gain your pet's trust. For example:
Week 1- Once a day, offer a little treat on a toothbrush. This can be peanut butter, a little baby food, some cheese or any food that is safe and a “high reward” type offer for your pet. Offer the snack only for 2 seconds - enough time to quickly lick it off. Do not allow any chewing of the brush. Then give a food reward and a pat on the head and walk away. Do this every day for one week.
Week 2- Offer the brush with the treat on it for a lick, then lift the front lips up and wipe the snack on the incisors once. Then give the food reward and pat on the head, and walk away. Do this once daily for a week.
Week 3- Rub the brush with yummy paste/treat around a little on the incisors (small front teeth). Give treat and praise as above.
Week 4- Brush incisors as before and work brush back to the canines (“fangs”) on one side- eventually working up to both sides. Give treat and praise.
Always perform the new procedure daily for a week, and always give the food reward upon completion and verbal and physical praise. It may take 1-2 months to work up to the final procedure which is circular motions for the cheek sides of all the back teeth, front teeth and canines. Unless your pet is extremely tolerant, you do not need to open the mouth to brush the inside surfaces since they do not accumulate plaque nearly so quickly in most pets.
Q: I have tried everything and still can not brush the teeth. Do I have any other options?
A: Mechanical plaque removal is the best option, and brushing is the best way to do that. Other options include special diets, chews and rinses designed to reduce plaque and prevent calculus. Wiping the teeth daily with a gauze pad, and using treats and toys designed to wipe the teeth can have some benefit as well. Cats can be more resistant to regular tooth brushing, but they often allow a quick wipe with a dry gauze pad or dental rinses.
Q: If I have the teeth cleaned by a veterinarian once a year, is that enough?
A: No. It’s a good start, but just like with humans, the teeth will only be clean one day a year. Plaque begins to form again on the tooth surfaces within hours of a good cleaning. If the plaque is not removed, within three days it can begin to mineralize into hard calculus that cannot be brushed off. Home care is essential to optimum oral health.
Pets can live longer, healthier lives if their oral health care is managed and maintained throughout their lives.
In fact, proper dental care may add as much as five years to your pet's life!
Talk to us about developing a dental care plan for your furry friends.
Special thanks to Shoreline Veterinary Dental Clinic and the American Animal Hospital Association for use of their Guidelines and FAQs