Dental disease? Does your pet have smelly breath?  If so, there is likely dental disease lurking.  Reluctance to chew, decreased appetite, redness of gums, discolored teeth, and bad breath likely means your pet is in need of a dental cleaning and possibly surgery.  Sadly, 85% of pets have periodontal disease by 3 years of age.  Because most pets do not brush, floss or get regular dental care, they are often in need of extensive dental care.  If caught early however, dental disease can be reversed.  When allowed to progress, the tooth root and bone below become affected and the damage is no longer reversible.

For me the saddest thing of all is having a pet (often times, an older pet) where there is really advanced dental disease- pus pockets, marked gum recession (sometimes with root exposure) and loose teeth and  for one reason or another, owners have been reluctant to have their teeth cleaned.  For many owners, finances play a role.  The sad thing is though, if they had been cleaned before the point of no return, they would have saved money, their pet would have been in far less pain, potential complications would have been less likely and their pet might have lived longer.

Sometimes, fear of anesthesia plays a role.  In my opinion, not entertaining a surgery, simply because the pet is old is not an option.  Old age is not a disease.   Anesthetics have come such a long way in the last 50 years, and anesthetics can be safely delivered to our geriatric patients.  The safest surgery involves a thorough physical examination, bloodwork and a urinalysis prior to surgery.  Closely monitoring our patients under anesthesia and identifying those with underlying medical conditions such as heart disease, history of seizures also allows us to take necessary precautions and adequately prepare for surgery.  Each patient has an IV catheter which allows us to have emergency access to veins.   IV fluids during surgery help to maintain appropriate blood pressure and flush out anesthesia.  In addition, vitals such as temperature, pulse, respiration, oxygen saturation, blood pressure and EKG are monitored by a machine and verified by a veterinary technician.  Of course, anesthetics are drugs and drug reactions can occur.  There is always risk and the procedure is not to be taken lightly however, if we look to human medicine for comparisons, we know that most of the procedures being done on a daily basis are being done on geriatric patients or in those with underlying disease.

Dogs and cats are resilient.  They may continue to eat despite considerable pain.  They are unable to speak for themselves and we are to be advocates for them.  Know that if your pet is showing signs of decreased appetite and pain in the mouth, it is real since they typically hide their pain.

Recently, I met an old client of mine from one of my previous practices.  She had a 10  year old miniature schnauzer who had recently had a dentistry.  While we were speaking, the client got teary eyed.  She felt so bad for delaying the surgery.  For years, her dog had been showing signs of pain (decreased play, decreased appetite) which she attributed to old age.  She had been delaying the dentistry because he had other medical issues, and, well, because he was old.  Finally, loose teeth, pus pockets and total refusal to eat, made the dentistry a necessity.  Within 2 days of the surgery, where most (if not all) the teeth had been removed, he started acting like a puppy again.   Only then, did the client understand how sore his mouth had been.

Dental disease is a potential source of pain and affects overall health.  Please have your pet’s teeth assessed regularly by your veterinarian.  He or she will guide you.  If there is any evidence of dental disease, a thorough examination, cleaning and potentially surgery will be recommended.  In pets, it is not possible to do a proper examination and cleaning without a general anesthetic- that’s 30 teeth for adult cats and 42 teeth for adult dogs!  A healthy mouth means a happy pet and longer life.  Besides, it’s much more pleasant to receive those kisses when we are not being bowled over by the stench…

Sadly, if there is advanced disease, no amount of home care can restore dental health.  If you have a young pet with a healthy mouth, the best way to prevent dental disease is to brush the teeth with a pet toothpaste at least three times a week.   Alternatives could include offering a prescription dental diet, using water additives such as Healthy Mouth, and offering dental treats under the guidance of your veterinarian.  Items such as rocks, bones, cow hooves and deer antlers are dangerous as they are commonly involved in causing teeth fractures and are discouraged.

In short, I just encourage people to consider, for their pets, some level of care for their teeth.  I understand it is not feasible/realistic for many to get a cleaning done every 3-6 months as is recommended in humans, however, regular check ups with a Veterinarian and dental home care can help keep the disease at bay.  One thing that helps, is that some insurance companies cover dental procedures.