Dr. Frost’s February 2015 Observer Today Article

Pets Need Dental Care Too

By Dr. Rebekah Frost - OBSERVER Columnist , Observer Today

Timmy, a sweet little 6 -year-old Papillon rescued from a breeding kennel, came to the clinic for an exam in 2011. He had a high grade heart murmur and severe dental disease. On blood tests, he was positive for heartworm disease and he was very anemic. He was also carrying the intestinal parasite, whipworms. He went through very expensive treatment for heartworm and whipworms and came back to us in four months for his dental cleaning. He had a mouth full of infected, abscessing teeth and recessed inflamed gums. He had over 20 rotting teeth extracted from his mouth. A week later he had already gained over a pound of weight back and his heart murmur had disappeared! He has had other dental cleanings since and is happy to have been rescued into a loving home and be given a much better quality of life!

As a veterinarian, one of the best things I can do for a pet is to help the owner maintain his or her pet’s dental health. Performing the necessary dental cleanings, dental extractions, and sending that pet home comfortable and free from painful and infected teeth brings much satisfaction; I have done what is best for the pet. I have seen pets with periodontal disease across the spectrum: from mild tartar buildup, to loose abscessed teeth. These abscessed teeth can be so severe that the infection has eaten into the pet’s jawbone or sinuses. Many times the owner does not know what is happening to the pet’s teeth, because some pets hide the pain well. You may see your pet chewing on one side of their mouth, swallowing food whole, pawing at their mouth, or crying when eating. In all cases of dental disease, the pet will have bad breath. This is usually the first clue to let you know your pet needs its teeth cleaned! Dental disease can also lead to a showering of bacteria into the body, affecting the internal organs. An area to which the bacteria may attach is the heart valves. This can cause a dangerous condition called bacterial endocarditis, and will eventually lead to permanent damage to the pet’s heart. Many times we can not hear a heart murmur with this condition and it may go unnoticed initially!

We recommend having your pet’s teeth checked on a regular basis. Your cat can develop severe gum disease or cavitations in their teeth called resorptive lesions. Resorptive lesions are similar to our cavities and can cause loss of the protective enamel of the tooth. When the sensitive dentin underneath is exposed, it can be very painful and these teeth should be removed. Dogs are more predisposed to periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is the buildup of tartar along the gum line of the teeth. This tartar can cause painful recession and inflammation of the gums, loosening of the teeth, and abscesses. Once the heavy tartar builds up, it should be scaled off while the animal is under a general anesthetic.


On the left, a dog’s set of teeth before cleaning. On the right, the same dog’s teeth after cleaning.

Just as it is important for us humans to have teeth cleaned every 6 months, it is important to have a pet’s teeth cleaned on a regular basis. A dental cleaning at our clinic includes first a thorough dental examination prior to the surgery. The pet is started on an antibiotic five days prior to the dental. The pet is admitted the morning of surgery and examined again to assure that it is safe to undergo an anesthetic procedure. Blood work is drawn to check the pet’s blood cells, kidney levels, liver values, and blood sugar. When the blood work is determined to be OK, the pet is sedated for the procedure. The sedation includes a pain injection like Morphine to keep it comfortable during the procedure and on wakeup. An intravenous catheter is placed for fluid administration and an intravenous induction drug, tailored specifically for your pet, is administered putting your pet completely asleep. A tube is then placed directly into your pet’s windpipe and anesthetic gases and oxygen are administered during the rest of the procedure. During the procedure, your pet’s heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide status, and temperature are all monitored. Each pet receives its own dental pack and a thorough dental scaling is performed using an ultrasonic scaler. Each surface of the tooth is scaled for 2 minutes and scaling is also performed under the gum line. Each tooth is probed thoroughly looking for any pockets or cavities. At this point we may choose to take dental radiographs of any questionable teeth and extractions of bad teeth are done by the doctor. Any open sockets are sutured closed, we may do an antibiotic infusion on any small pockets, and the remaining teeth are all polished thoroughly. Finally, the mouth is cleaned and a fluoride treatment is placed on all tooth surfaces. Your pet is sent home with pain medications and a home dental plan. We then recheck your pet in 7-10 days to check how the gums are healing. Many times I’ve rechecked pets after dental cleanings to have the owner tell me how he or she never really realized the pet was suffering until the procedure was done. I hear comments like “She’s acting like a puppy again!” or “He has so much more energy and I never knew his teeth were the problem!”

Do not be enticed by dental cleanings that are advertised by someone other than a veterinarian. The person is performing a medical procedure on your family pet without a license; it is illegal! Such people are not trained properly to do a procedure like this and may not have the proper equipment. It is important to have a dental procedure done under general anesthesia to thoroughly exam all the teeth in the pet’s mouth. General anesthesia is extremely safe as long as it is done properly and the animal is monitored correctly.

Be sure to ask your veterinarian about how they monitor the pet while it is under anesthesia. There can be wide variations in the care that is provided for your pet. Without full anesthesia and a full exam by a trained professional, many conditions can go unnoticed. Scaling, polishing, and probing your pet’s teeth can be painful for the pet if it is awake.

For the month of February the clinic is offering $25 off a dental cleaning and a free dental kit to help start dental home care for your pet. Home care is important as well and might include daily brushing with pet safe toothpaste, mouth rinses, dental chews and treats, and even a dental diet! Call to set up your appointment today and ask about what dental products we offer. Also stop down to try some free samples of some dental products.

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