Why is Dental Health Important?
For most people, dental health is a part of everyday life. They brush their teeth twice a day, floss, and some even use fluoride rinse. When it comes to pets, however, it's often a different story.
Many people don't think about brushing their pets' teeth, yet gum disease (dental disease) affects 85% of all adult cats and dogs. Gum disease can lead to pain, bad breath, tooth loss, and even life-threatening diseases. In fact, gum disease is a cause of liver, lung, heart, and kidney disease, as bacteria can enter the bloodstream directly through the gums and continually shower vital organs. Cats are notorious for developing kidney disease as they age, so they certainly don't need constant bacterial exposure causing early kidney damage! Fortunately, this disease is easily preventable. Dental disease does not reach a particular level and remain there. Dental disease continuously progresses. As it progresses, the treatment becomes more involved, meaning longer and more elaborate (and more costly) dental procedures. This means that sooner is better than later when it comes to addressing your pet's dental disease with an appropriate treatment.
Regular dentistry to clean under the gum line (where most of the problem lies), remove tartar, and polish the teeth is important. Having your pet's teeth cleaned regularly prevents severe problems when he or she gets older...imagine going several years without brushing your teeth! Your veterinarian will assess the visible tartar and gingivitis during an exam (as allowed by the pet) as well as the physical status of the animal. Dental x-rays can be extremely helpful in evaluating the portion of the tooth that is covered in gum tissue. Some basic blood tests, including evaluation of liver and kidney function and red and white blood cell counts, should be performed before an anesthetic procedure, especially in older pets.
Signs of Poor Dental Health
Persistent bad breath
Sensitivity around the mouth
Pawing at the mouth
Bleeding, inflamed, or receded gums
Difficulty eating or chewing food
Tartar (tan or brown, hard material)
Loss of appetite OR shows interest in food but won't eat
Holding the mouth awkwardly or with the tongue out
Loose or missing teeth
Once these symptoms are noticed, advanced dental disease is present and may require extensive work, including oral surgery, to alleviate pain and infection.
Why is Anesthesia Necessary?
A complete examination and cleaning of all teeth cannot be performed efficiently and safely (for both your pet and the veterinarian) if your pet is awake. The teeth and gums will be evaluated for fractures, lesions, periodontal pockets, looseness, and other abnormalities. The tartar on the teeth is removed and the teeth are polished. At The Cat's Meow, we also perform a fluoride treatment.
How Long Does the Dental Procedure Take?
A straightforward dental examination and cleaning generally lasts between 20 and 40 minutes. Any dental disease that requires more treatment or necessary tooth extractions will, of course, require more time.
What are the Risks and Complications?
The risks of a dental procedure are usually minimal. Anesthesia is never completely without risk, but advances in anesthesia protocols and monitoring have greatly reduced risks. Appropriate evaluation of your pet prior to the procedure (exam and lab work) can also go a long way towards reducing risks of anesthesia. Non-anesthetic risks include fracture of the tooth root or the surrounding bone, damage to neighboring healthy teeth, or a reaction to antibiotics, pain medications, or anesthetics administered. The number of occurrences of these complications happening is extremely low in comparison to the number of dental procedures performed without any undue effects. The benefits of regular dental care far outweigh the risks of problems.
What is the Typical Postoperative Care?
Care for your pet after a dental procedure depends on how extensive the procedure is. Special care is usually not required after a simple cleaning. If tooth extractions or advanced periodontal treatment were performed, feeding softer food, administering antibiotics and pain medications, and using an oral rinse may be recommended while healing occurs.
How Long is the Hospital Stay?
Most dental procedures are outpatient procedures, and your cat may only spend the day in the hospital. Any concern of recovery from anesthesia or extensive work may warrant an overnight stay in the hospital for observation.
What Can I do at Home to Help?
We carry poultry and seafood flavors of CET® brand kitty toothpaste. The toothpaste is a fluoride-free veterinary product, safe for cats, and has enzymes to help with dental disease. If the cat likes the paste, you can graduate from letting him or her lick a small amount to rubbing the front teeth, then gradually move further back to where you can brush all of the teeth. This can be done with your finger, a cotton swab, some gauze over your finger, a soft finger brush, or a variety of sizes of kitty toothbrushes. If the cat likes the paste but will not tolerate any brushing, the enzymes in the paste will help some, so it is better to use that than to do nothing.
See the following link for a thorough description in video form for teaching your cat to accept home tooth brushing (there are 4 total videos):
WHY IS ANESTHESIA NECESSARY?
Certain cat food diets promote dental health. For instance, Hills has a prescription diet called t/d (tooth diet) to encourage healthy gums and teeth. Look for the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) seal of approval on pet food bags to see if it qualifies for the promotion of healthy teeth (see http://www.vohc.org/VOHCAcceptedProductsTable_Cats.pdf).
Even if you are able to brush your kitty's teeth regularly, they still need to be examined and professionally cleaned on a regular basis (every 6-12 months if possible). This is similar to a person who brushes his or her teeth twice daily but still visits the dentist every 6-12 months for a checkup and cleaning.
At The Cat's Meow Veterinary Hospital, we perform dentistry multiple times per week. The complication rate is extremely low. We recommend a thorough comprehensive examination and at least basic lab work (and blood pressure measurement in cats over 7 years) prior to the procedure to check for any signs of systemic disease that need to be addressed prior to anesthesia. In addition, if infection is identified, antibiotics may be prescribed for you to start giving your pet prior to the dental. IV fluids are used during the procedure to ensure proper blood pressure and supply to the organs.
We have noticed a definite trend: In general, our patients that receive regular dental care starting at an early age have far healthier teeth and gums and require minimal work when they become seniors vs. cats whose first teeth cleaning occurs when they are several years old- many have severe disease, some requiring extractions. Some of our patients have even had to go to the veterinary dental specialist to have multiple or even full mouth extractions, crown amputations, restorations, and other procedures. This is not healthy and is painful for your cat (and your pocketbook!) Also, there is frequently more disease occurring in the mouth than you can see from a quick glance during an exam, so it is important to have regular exams of the teeth and supporting tissues while the cat is sedated. We previously only recommended dental cleanings when we could SEE disease or quite a bit of tartar buildup. Only recently have we begun recommending dental cleanings when minimal tartar is present. Better yet, starting at 1 year of age and annually thereafter is a wonderful plan, as prevention is ALWAYS better than treatment. We want your cat to be able to retain all teeth for its entire lifespan. As caretaker for your pet, you play the most important role in dental health by scheduling regular dentals and doing dental health care at home. Please help your pet by discussing a dental health plan with your veterinarian.
If you have any questions regarding dental hygiene, talk to your veterinarian.