ASK THE VETS
By Dr. Kim Anderka and Dr. Christina Douthwaite
I have been told that my dog needs dentistry and teeth removed but he is older and I am nervous about anesthesia. Why can’t his teeth be cleaned without an anesthetic?
Dental disease is one of the most common health problems diagnosed in cats and dogs. Just as in humans, plaque forms on the teeth from the bacteria in the mouth and develops into very thick, heavy tartar if not brushed away. As the plaque and tartar builds up under the gum line, it causes inflammation to the gums known as gingivitis. If gingivitis isn’t addressed, it progresses to periodontal disease that causes weakening of the tooth structures, tooth loss, infection and pain. This is why early intervention with a professional cleaning is key to preventing more serious health issues and tooth loss later in life.
An oral health evaluation is performed at your routine annual wellness exam. If your veterinarian is seeing signs of tartar accumulation or gingivitis they will recommend a dental prophylaxis procedure. If your veterinarian is noting loose teeth in your dog, periodontal disease is already present and should be addressed as soon as possible. The procedure involves a general anesthetic, a comprehensive oral health assessment, dental scaling, polishing and antibacterial treatment. In some cases, dental X-rays may be recommended to identify issues that can’t be adequately diagnosed visually or with probing the tooth. A general anesthetic is required so that the veterinarian can adequately scale under the gum line, clean all surfaces of the teeth, detect pockets, address periodontal disease and extract any diseased or abscessed teeth. Trying to perform a dental procedure without an anesthetic would not allow a proper assessment or cleaning of the teeth especially for the most important area under the gum-line. These procedures may result in the pet’s tooth looking cleaner on the crown but the main focus of the dental disease is still actively occurring under the gumline. For this reason, in Ontario it is illegal for a non-veterinarian to practice anesthesia-free dentistry. This policy is in place to protect animals as even dental hygiene can pose a serious risk, distress and pain when performed inappropriately.
Facing an anesthetic procedure for your pet can be stressful. To minimize risk to your pet, have a physical exam and blood work done prior to the procedure to ensure your dog’s internal organs are working well. Intravenous fluids are also important during the procedure to help to maintain blood pressure and excrete the drugs from their system. Discussing your specific anesthetic concerns with your veterinarian will help to alleviate your concerns and address any special requirements your pet may have. The risks of leaving dental disease untreated are much higher than the risk of anesthetic in an otherwise healthy patient. Leaving oral infection and loose teeth causes oral pain, difficulty eating, possible weight loss and general debilitation. Some pets become head shy or aggressive and resent their owner petting their head for fear of touching a sore area. Untreated oral infection can also lead to bacteria accessing the bloodstream causing kidney, heart valve or liver infections.
Plaque begins forming in as little as six hours after your dog’s dental cleaning. A home dental care program including regular tooth brushing is a must after investing in a professional dental. Your veterinarian will provide you with detailed instructions on how to brush or rinse your dog’s teeth. If your dog isn’t comfortable with tooth brushing, there are alternatives such as dental diets and oral rinses that may help to reduce the rate of plaque and tartar accumulation post-dental.
We often hear from owners that after addressing their pet’s dental issues, they become much happier, more energetic and social again, not to mention they no longer have bad breath. We wish you all the best with your dog.