Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard
Snow Leopard cub (7 mos old) - Cape May County Zoo

Monday, January 10, 2011

Why are 42 and 30 so Important?

Because they are the number of teeth your dog or cat has, as an adult. And I’m sure you want your friend to keep them healthy.
The slower early months of the year at many practices are often utilized to promote pet dental care. What may be shocking to pet owners is that by the age of 3 yrs old, 80% of pets have SOME form of dental disease! Cats AND dogs. All breeds.  
Some signs of dental disease include difficulty eating or dropping food, breath odor, drooling or blood coming from the mouth, tooth loss or even facial swelling. Of course, some of these signs can indicate something else entirely:  1. breath odor can be a sign of  kidney disease 2. facial swelling may not be a bad tooth but a tumor. In general, it is best if you have your pet examined yearly and if it’s older, every 6 months. 

As in people, the earlier you intervene the better. Don't wait until the teeth are falling out to get them cleaned. It has been shown that dental disease affects organs like the kidneys and heart and over time can result in damage and a shortened life.
There are some breeds of dogs that are more likely to have dental disease and these include the toy/small breed dogs and Greyhounds, but ANY breed or mix is at risk.  Labrador Retreivers, for example, typically have pretty clean teeth due to their propensity to chew and also genetics BUT I have seen a few Labs with really nasty mouths. This is why having your veterinarian examine your pet’s mouth is the best way to know. This should be part of any routine physical exam.  
Kitties have their own special dental issues and I’ll save them for another day.
Now, I’ve had many clients “balk” at having a dental because they fear anesthesia and wonder why it just can’t be done in the room with a scaler. They’ll mention that their groomer cleans the teeth while the pet is in for a haircut. Can you imagine having your hairdresser properly clean and assess YOUR teeth? I didn’t think so. There are sound medical reasons why scaling alone in an awake patient  is NOT recommended and can make things worse.
This is some great info taken from the American Veterinary Dental College website  ( , which has a lot of great information on it and touches on some of the topics I’ll be getting into during the week.
 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.
  Let me add that scaling without polishing actually creates grooves in the tooth that allow plaque and tartar to adhere EVEN more nicely to!
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, 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.
I can't say enough about this - there are numerous times when I've found tumors, broken teeth, misaligned teeth, foreign bodies, etc - that would NEVER have been seen in even the most cooperative awake patient. 
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.
This is why it is KEY to have YOUR VETERINARIAN do a full exam and some preanesthetic bloodwork. In some cases they may even need to do an EKG or cardiac ultrasound (if your dog has a heart issue). 
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.

And one thing I really want people to keep in mind:  Age is NOT a disease. Advancing age in a pet is not a reason to avoid a dental or other procedures. 

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