Dental disease is a problem that is often under recognized in pets since owners rarely look into their pets’ mouths, and pets cannot complain. Cats are particularly at risk because they are stoic and often do not change their habits significantly even when dealing with severe dental pain. In addition, cats tend not to get “in your face” the way dogs do—so their bad breath may be less obvious.
Professional veterinary dentistry is the only way to properly remove dental tarter, fully inspect the pet’s mouth and teeth, and address problem areas. Antibiotics and pain control medications may reduce infection temporarily and relieve some of the pain and discomfort caused by dental disease, but the problem will always return until it is physically addressed. Keeping a pet’s teeth clean and healthy not only improves its quality of life by reducing pain and infection, but can actually prevent certain infections from occurring in other places in the body (lungs, heart, kidneys, liver, etc.). This is particularly important if you have a senior pet with pre-existing disease.
In recent years a number of companies started offering anesthesia-less dental cleanings. These are touted as “safer” since they do not require the use of anesthesia drugs. Although this sounds attractive and may even be less expensive (in the short-term), the American Veterinary Dental Association has taken a strong position against this practice. One of the main reasons is that a thorough dental inspection cleaning above and below the gum line is not possible without anesthesia. This means that tooth pathology can easily be missed, leading to a false sense of security and potential complications in the future. Additionally, the stress on the pet is greater with manual restraint, something that is traumatizing to some pets. Also, slight movement from the pet, which occurs without anesthesia, could lead to damage of the oral tissues. The bottom line is that, anesthesia-less dental cleanings may produce a short lived cosmetic improvement to the teeth, but often miss underlying dental pathology and fail in their ability to provide proper dental care.
The best practice is to get your pet’s teeth cleaned professionally early on (while the tarter accumulation and gingivitis are minimal) and follow up with veterinary dental exams twice a year to determine when future dental cleanings are needed. In some pets, the need for professional cleanings can be as often as every six months; in others it may be every several years. The dental exams will help you decide where your pet falls in this range. There are many good tools, such as oral rinses, toothbrush kits, and dental diets, to help you and your pet prolong the interval between needing professional cleanings.
If you take this proactive approach, it will take less time for your veterinarian to accomplish the cleaning (less time usually means lower cost and shorter times under anesthesia). Routine cleanings also reduce your pet’s risk that serious dental problems will arise, and let’s not forget the added benefit of minimizing that bad breath! On the other hand, if you wait until the teeth are in really bad shape, there is a much greater chance of tooth integrity loss, the need for extraction(s) and other time consuming and costly work and, of course, a longer procedure (which means more anesthesia time and therefore more risks). Many clinics, including my own, offer discounted dentistry in the month of February in recognition of “Pet Dental Month.”
Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the Central Coast, a full-service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals. Cat & Exotic Care is located in Pismo Coast Plaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228. More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.
If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@example.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.
Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.