You may have been told at some point that your pet could benefit from a dental cleaning. Why? The teeth of dogs and cats are made up of the same materials that human teeth are made of. Additionally, unlike humans, most pets do not brush their teeth every day. Therefore, it is important to get your pet’s mouth and teeth examined and cleaned regularly by your veterinarian in addition to instituting a home dental plan to prevent the need for as many dental cleanings throughout your pet’s life.
Tartar is a substance which is made up of bacteria and sits on the tooth surface. After a few days, that tartar calcifies and becomes calculus. Calculus cannot be removed from the tooth except with special dental equipment, which is why pets require dentals at the vet’s office. If the tartar and calculus are allowed to sit on the tooth surface, this can lead to irritation and inflammation of the gums (gingivitis). Unless the tartar or calculus is removed from the tooth, this cycle of inflammation and accumulation of bacteria will continue. The treatment is to remove the tartar and calculus, clean beneath the gum line, and then follow up with at-home dental care. These things paired together can help your pet’s mouth remain healthy and prevent future disease. That being said, some breeds of dog and cat are more prone to dental disease because of their genetics. It is especially important for these breeds to have routine dental exams with dental cleaning (when necessary) paired with at-home dental care. This can also help reduce the number of teeth a pet will lose throughout their lives due to periodontal disease.
When we clean a dog or cat (or ferret’s) teeth, we do the exact same things your dentist does when you go in for your routine cleaning. We use special equipment to clean the teeth, get underneath the gum line, we take x-rays, we polish the teeth, and we apply fluoride. If any teeth need to come out, we do that at the time of the cleaning. That being said, there are certain people who require sedation to “take the edge off” at the dentist. Your dog or cat cannot understand why we are invading their mouths with foreign equipment. They also are not very amenable to having foreign objects stuck into their mouths, making it very difficult to do a thorough oral exam and cleaning exam without anesthesia. The tube that goes in their windpipe to deliver the gas anesthesia also helps to keep fluid from going down their windpipe and into their lungs, which is very important since there is a lot of water used to clean the teeth. It is the highest standard of practice to put veterinary patients under anesthesia during dentals, which optimizes the treatment and leads to the most successful outcome. For this reason, it may seem that dentals are very expensive, which is true. However, without this expense, ti would be very difficult to do a good job and give your pet the best outcome. Additionally, routine dental care can actually decrease the amount you spend on your pet’s mouth over his life, since it can decrease the need for tooth removal and treatment of infections.
February is National Pet Dental Health Month, so if your vet has recommended a dental cleaning for your pet, you may be able to get dental care at a discount while still getting all the benefits of a thorough exam and cleaning under general anesthesia. Next time, we will talk about how to keep your pet’s mouth healthy at home. Please feel free to call and speak with a staff member about our specials and options for your pet’s dental care!