Did you know that pets suffer from dental disease just like people do? One of the worst things about dental disease is the pain it causes. Dogs and cats donít always show pain. Pets can have very serious dental problems, such as infected teeth, jawbone abscesses or fractured teeth and never say, ďOuchĒ or hold their paw to their jaw, but they do hurt! Many times, when these problems are corrected, a petís entire personality can change. They often become more social, interactive and playful because they are no longer in pain.
So, how do you check for dental disease in your pet? First, look for yellow or brown color of the teeth, not just in the front teeth, but also the back part of the mouth. While this sounds simple, most pet owners never lift their petís lip and look inside the mouth, so Ė Lift the Lip! Next, smell the breath. It may not be minty fresh but it should not be foul smelling. If it is, bad bacteria have already set up and are working on infecting the gum and even loosening the attachment of the teeth to the jawbone. This means that dental disease has been progressing for months or years without you knowing.
A complete veterinary dental exam is necessary to discover hidden dental disease. Most veterinarians today use a 12-step process for this procedure. This assures that nothing is missed and all problems are properly treated.
The steps include a history and physical exam, an oral survey checking for such things as cancer and missing teeth, ultrasonic scaling of the teeth and subgingival scaling, which is critically important. Subgingival scaling involves removing tartar and debris from the part of the tooth you canít see Ė the part under the gum, where infection sets up.
Following the exam and cleaning, a complete polishing is done to remove irregularities in the enamel in order to slow future accumulation of tartar. Next, the gum pockets are flushed and treated with antiseptic. At this point, many veterinarians will apply a fluoride or enamel sealant treatment.
The next step includes compete charting of every tooth and the surrounding gum and bone tissue. Using a dental probe, the gum line around each tooth is probed for pockets where infection may exist. The location and depth of each pocket is recorded in the medical record, just as you have seen done at your own dentistís office.
Next, a complete set of dental X-rays is taken. Dental X-rays have become the standard of care in veterinary practice. Without them, it is impossible to find many of the most serious dental problems such as fractured teeth, abscesses and developmental problems. Only by taking X-rays can you know the complete health status of your petís mouth.
Finally, a treatment plan is developed for the problems found, all necessary treatments are done and instructions are given for home care and any follow-up care that is needed. Pet owners are also taught ways to provide at home dental care to help keep their petís mouth and teeth healthy.
To perform a proper dental exam and treatment, it is essential that the pet be under anesthesia. Anesthesia today is very safe, using the most modern medications, anesthetic gases and monitoring by skilled technicians. Care for a veterinary patient under anesthesia is very similar to that of a human patient.
I will caution you against a deceptive practice, so-called ďanesthesia-free dentistry.Ē While this may sound appealing, the process has many risks and leaves most pets to suffer in silence because no actual treatment is done. This is often performed by unlicensed and untrained individuals who only scrape tartar from the outside of the few visible teeth while your pet is awake (assuming your pet will hold still). The process has no medical benefit whatsoever.
They cannot remove tartar from the inside surfaces of the petís teeth; and, more importantly, they cannot remove tartar below the gum line. Often charging hundreds of dollars, these people prey on a pet ownerís fear of anesthesia. Worst of all, pet owners believe their petís teeth are healthy but underlying disease goes undetected and untreated, which can result in tremendous pain, tooth loss and systemic bacterial infections. In some states this practice has been outlawed. Unfortunately, it is here in Colorado, so please be aware of this serious problem and donít become a victim.
So, to ensure your petís health and comfort, lift your petís lip and look at its teeth. Then call your veterinarian for a complete dental exam and treatment. This care is not expensive when you consider the complications and pain associated with untreated dental disease.
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Dr. Jim Humphries is a house call veterinarian in Falcon. He also serves as a visiting professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University. He lives in Falcon with his wife, horses and Great Danes. http://www.MobilePetDocs.com