HOW IMPORTANT IS DENTAL WORK FOR YOUR PET?
YOUR PET'S DENTAL HEALTH IS MORE THAN JUST CLEAN TEETH AND BETTER BREATH...
There I was, in the dentist chair, waiting to hear the results of the examination on my teeth. This was a new dentist for me and I had not been for my annual or semi-annual cleaning in getting close to two years now. Don’t judge me. We’ve all been there. I was experiencing a little anxiety at what I assumed would be the news. Root canal? Cavities all over the place? At one of my last appointments at my previous dentist, they had identified a tooth that possibly needed a crown, so how much worse had that situation gotten? Well, I definitely needed that crown, they said. Very fortunately, the decay had not gotten to the point where I would need a root canal. Just those two words together make me cringe. Being a big fan of the film Marathon Man hasn’t done great things for my outlook on dentistry, I must admit.
More often than not, in the veterinary field, we deal a lot with the idea of “how does this compare to human health”? In this specific case, it has its similarities. When dental work is put off, it can lead to much bigger issues. That goes for humans and pets alike. Here is where it goes on a slightly different path, however. Those of us who have experienced very painful toothaches can attest to how debilitating that can be until it gets taken care of. As humans, we can (and so often do) tell anyone and everyone about that pain…sometimes to the point where the other person has heard enough about it and forces us to go to the dentist. However, our pets don’t have that luxury. And, as surprising as it may be, they won’t yelp or cry out with every painful bite they take while experiencing some level of mouth pain.
Mouth or tooth pain are not the only health issues that can occur with poor dental upkeep for your pets. Owners are surprised to hear that many respiratory, kidney, liver and heart problems can be caused by bacteria spreading from the mouth. That’s right; a prolonged lack of attention to your pet’s mouth could lead to some extremely serious problems. I always remember one of the ways that Dr. Wheaton described it to me a while back after dealing with a dog that needed significant dental work done: if these issues were outside of the mouth and visible, they would be sizable wounds that the owners would react to and act upon immediately. The problem is, these are “internal” issues that most owners never see and are not being alerted to.
My pets can have plaque and tartar, too?
Plaque and Tartar. We all know what these are, right? In the human world, some people let this ride out to the extreme before acting upon it. The problem with tartar on your pet’s teeth can be what can’t be seen underneath it. In a great many cases, what lies hidden behind that hard shell (that can even appear to be your pet’s tooth by just looking at it) can be anywhere on the scale from “pretty bad” to “that tooth needs to be extracted”. Think about a pier with the inevitable attachment of sea creatures in a small amount of time. It’s a natural phenomenon for bacteria in the mouth to adhere to a tooth and as time goes by, the minerals in the mouth will allow for that bacteria to form into a cement-like matrix called calculus or tartar. All of us also have a defense mechanism in our mouth to protect our bodies against things from the outside coming in through the mouth and creating disease. When bacteria persists in the form of calculus, the inflammatory process is constant.
Persistent calculus provides unending immune system stimulation, causing gingivitis which then eventually results in gum recession. When enough gum recedes, there is no barrier to protect the underlying bone which holds the teeth firmly in place; eventually that bone is eroded as well. Bone loss creates a loose tooth and at that point, the battle is over. Well, kinda. At this stage, at the minimum, the tooth is doomed for a healthy survival but it’s not that easy for an immune system to kick out a barnacle covered pier pylon. It can take years for enough bone to be lost to enable a tooth with a long or complicated root structure to fall out on its own, so during that time the inflammatory response continues unabated in the mouth until this gaping wound with a hunk of tooth in it is removed one way or the other. If you have ever experienced what an “exposed root” feels like, you know well how tremendously painful that can be. When these issues are identified, the affected tooth needs to be extracted.
Some dogs and cats can have their teeth cleaned without any anesthesia. We work with a local company to have extensively trained technicians do preventative cleanings for your pet at our hospital. They do awake cleanings on cats and dogs ranging from Chihuahuas all the way to Great Danes. Not all pets are able to receive a non-anesthetic dental cleaning: whether they just don’t like someone holding them to clean their teeth, or their dental health demands more work than can be taken care of by a dental cleaning without anesthesia. In such cases, a staff member will go over the best possible treatment plan for the well-being of your pet with you before any course of action is taken.
Out of sight and out of mind is too often what occurs in regards to a pet’s dental well-being. Our staff always has our patients’ best interest at the forefront of every decision and conversation with our clients. Thus, we are vigilant with our efforts of keeping you aware of all the latest developments within the veterinary dental field. We do our best to encourage you to be the best possible advocate for your pet and their overall health… and that doesn’t just begin or end with their mouth.
If you are noticing any of these issues with your pet or it is time for their maintenance cleaning, call our staff at (949) 768-1313 and set an appointment.