Your pet's teeth play an important role in his & her life, possibly more than your own. Consider that we humans use our teeth to eat, drink and speak. We brush our teeth multiple times per day, floss daily, use mouthwash, chew gum, and visit our dentist for regular cleanings. Our pets use their teeth to eat, drink, vocalize, grab items, protect themselves, play, and itch. However, most pets' owners do not brush, floss, or otherwise perform any type of routine cleaning on their pet's teeth.
By the time they reach 3 years of age, 85% of dogs & cats will need a professional dental cleaning. Some small toy breeds such as poodles & dachshunds may need their teeth cleaned significantly sooner than this. Dog & cat teeth are very similar to humans in structure. Bacteria in the mouth mix with food & saliva to form plaque. Plaque is a transparent adhesive fluid composed of mucin, epithelial cells and bacteria. Plaque starts forming in two days on a clean tooth surface. If the plaque is not removed by daily brushing, mineral salts in the food can precipitate to form hard dental calculus. Calculus appears yellow to brownish and cakes on the teeth. Once calculus forms, it is impossible to remove with brushing. The calculus is irritating to the gums, changing the pH of the mouth and allowing bacteria to survive under the gums. By-products of these bacteria "eat away" at the tooth's support structures, eventually causing the tooth to be lost in some cases. This is called periodontal disease.
The goal of our veterinary staff is to diagnose this process early in the course of the disease and prevent severe periodontal disease from occurring. Regular veterinary checks are essential to determine the stage of the dental disease and course of treatment. When plaque is mild, daily brushing with a pet-safe toothpaste might be recommended. There are also prescription dental treats which helps decrease the amount of bacteria in the mouth when used on a regular basis.
Once plaque forms into calculus, a professional dental cleaning is necessary. Dogs and cats must be under general anesthesia to properly perform a dental cleaning. The calculus is scaled away from the teeth, each tooth is probed for gum recession & evaluated for disease, all the teeth are polished, and a protective fluoride rinse is applied. By the age of 3 years old, most pets will require this once yearly.
If too much time is allowed between dental cleanings, the calculus that forms on the teeth can cause severe periodontal disease. Signs that your pet may have periodontal disease include weight loss, trouble eating, eating on one side of his or her mouth, dropping food, sudden preference for soft foods, blood or pus from the mouth, swelling around the mouth or very bad breath. The goal of dental cleanings when periodontal disease exists is to return your pet's mouth to as healthy a state as possible. This includes removing the offending calculus, probing all the teeth, and polishing all the teeth but also may include removing any teeth that are loose, diseased, fractured, or have infection under the gums. Periodontal disease if left untreated can lead to disease of the heart, kidneys, liver.
Anesthesia-free cleaning for pets
Unfortunately, some lay people have tried to make a business out of cleaning pet’s teeth without anesthesia, playing on the owner’s fear of anesthesia. In my opinion, this is worse for the pet than doing nothing at all. Removing the visible tartar from above the gum line is only one of the twelve steps involved in a proper dental cleaning, and is not even the most important part. This is the only part of the cleaning that can be done in an “awake” animal, and it cannot be done very well.
Think of the degree of cooperation that you give the hygienist when you have your teeth cleaned. For 45 minutes you remain reasonably still while they scrape your teeth, having you spit out periodically. Imagine if someone tried to do this to you without explaining the process. Imagine if you had a painful area in your mouth as most dogs and cats do. Imagine how involved the cleaning would be if you did not ever brush your teeth, like most pets. How complete could the job possibly be? These people have no training in identifying or treating dental problems in pets. All they can do is remove, painfully, some of the tartar in your pet’s mouth. They cannot clean under the gum line (the most important part of the cleaning) or obtain any dental radiographs (x-rays) of problem areas. The reason it is worse than doing nothing is that it gives an owner a sense that the pet has been well cared for, in addition to leaving a very rough surface that actually promotes future dental disease. Proper dental care in animals requires general anesthesia, period!
Because proper pet dental care is so important, Animal Medical Center of Forney now offers a package rate dog or cat dental cleaning with a cost savings that will make a veterinary dental cleaning more affordable for pet owners.
Dental Scaling Without Anesthesia
In the United States and Canada, only licensed veterinarians can practice veterinary medicine. Veterinary medicine includes veterinary surgery, medicine and dentistry.
This page addresses dental scaling procedures performed on pets without anesthesia, often by individuals untrained in veterinary dental techniques. Although the term Anesthesia-Free Dentistry has been used in this context, AVDC prefers to use the more accurate term Non-Professional Dental Scaling (NPDS) to describe this combination.
Owners of pets naturally are concerned when anesthesia is required for their pet. However, performing NPDS on an unanesthetized pet is inappropriate for the following reasons:
1. Dental tartar is firmly adhered to the surface of the teeth. Scaling to remove tartar is accomplished using ultrasonic and sonic power scalers, plus hand instruments that must have a sharp working edge to be used effectively. Even slight head movement by the patient could result in injury to the oral tissues of the patient, and the operator may be bitten when the patient reacts.
2. Professional dental scaling includes scaling the surfaces of the teeth both above and below the gingival margin (gum line), followed by dental polishing. The most critical part of a dental scaling procedure is scaling the tooth surfaces that are within the gingival pocket (the subgingival space between the gum and the root), where periodontal disease is active. Because the patient cooperates, dental scaling of human teeth performed by a professional trained in the procedures can be completed successfully without anesthesia. However, access to the subgingival area of every tooth is impossible in an unanesthetized canine or feline patient. Removal of dental tartar on the visible surfaces of the teeth has little effect on a pet's health, and provides a false sense of accomplishment. The effect is purely cosmetic.
3. Inhalation anesthesia using a cuffed endotracheal tube provides three important advantages... the cooperation of the patient with a procedure it does not understand, elimination of pain resulting from examination and treatment of affected dental tissues during the procedure, and protection of the airway and lungs from accidental aspiration.
4. A complete oral examination and dental radiographs (x-rays) which is an important part of a professional dental scaling procedure, is not possible in an unanesthetized patient. The surfaces of the teeth facing the tongue cannot be examined, and areas of disease and discomfort are likely to be missed. With respect to radiographs remember that 2/3 of the tooth is under the gum therefore a proper assessment of the health of the tooth can not be performed without dental radiographs.
Safe use of an anesthetic or sedative in a dog or cat requires evaluation of the general health and size of the patient to determine the appropriate drug and dose, and continual monitoring of the patient.
Veterinarians are trained in all of these procedures. Prescribing or administering anesthetic or sedative drugs by a non-veterinarian can be very dangerous, and is illegal. Although anesthesia will never be 100% risk-free, modern anesthetic and patient evaluation techniques used in veterinary hospitals minimize the risks, and millions of dental scaling procedures are safely performed each year in veterinary hospitals.
To minimize the need for professional dental scaling procedures and to maintain optimal oral health, AVDC recommends daily dental home care from an early age in dogs and cats. This should include brushing or use of other effective techniques to retard accumulation of dental plaque, such as dental diets and chew materials. This, combined with periodic examination of the patient by a veterinarian and with dental scaling under anesthesia when indicated, will optimize life-long oral health for dogs and cats. For information on effective oral hygiene products for dogs and cats, visit the Veterinary Oral Health Council web site (www.VOHC.org).