Veterinary Dental Insider: Why the Anesthesia? – Pet Dental Awareness Month Part 3

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A question I often get regarding pet dental work is, why the anesthesia? What about anesthetic free dental cleanings that are offered at the groomers? 

As pet dental awareness month is coming to an end, dental disease unfortunately doesn’t end with it. Given just how common of an issue dental disease is, I thought I’d explain in a bit more detail what, and why we do things the way we do

Why the anesthesia? It’s just dental work.

Putting an animal under anesthetic is important in order to properly perform a dental cleaning, dental x-rays, as well as extractions if they are necessary. Most animals don’t sit still and say ‘Ah’ on command to allow a detailed and proper oral exam. Even in the best of animals, it is difficult to properly examine the back and inside of the mouth. When we are evaluating the teeth, we need to probe all around each individual tooth looking for bone loss, gingival recession, pockets, or areas of concern. Imagine trying to get the little dental mirror into the back of the mouth to  look at each tooth in your pets mouth – I’ll bet that in most cases the answer is something along the lines of ‘good luck’. If there are any teeth of concern and we need to take dental x-rays, the animal has to be perfectly still. In addition, getting an animal to bite down on a digital x-ray plate without breaking it is not a gamble we’re willing to take since they tend to be quite expensive pieces of equipment. 

Simply looking visually at the teeth is not adequate for a truly thorough dental evaluation. You can certainly get a rough idea of what to expect, but until you can properly get in the mouth to probe things and take radiographs, it is a bit of an educated estimate.

In addition to simply proper evaluation of the teeth, we have to perform the dental cleaning (+/- extractions if needed) as well. Some facilities including some pet stores and groomers will offer ‘anesthetic free cleanings’. These typically help to remove much of the visible calculus and tartar that you can see on the outside of the dogs teeth. This helps to improve the cosmetics as the teeth look visibly much cleaner, as well in mild cases will allow you to be better able to brush and clean along the gum line of the teeth. The issue is that the majority of dental disease occurs below the gum line where it is not visible, breaking down the bone in which the teeth reside. If you have a clean tooth crown (the visible portion) but an abscess under the gum line, the tooth can look visibly clean and healthy but still be painful and infected. Proper cleaning of the teeth requires scaling of the tooth along and underneath the gum-line. Having fingers and sharp pointy objects in an awake animal’s mouth is a bad idea for more reasons than one. 

Dental freezing can allow lots of work to be done in people, including tooth extractions. In animals, we once again come back to the fact that we can’t explain what is going on, and thus the anesthesia. Sedation, while useful, is not reliable enough for us to work safely. Additionally, heavily sedated animals are at risk of aspiration and inhaling fluids which can lead to pneumonia, and thus anesthesia results in a safer procedure. 

Long story short, as much as we don’t want to perform unnecessary anesthetics on any patient, anesthesia is vital to any proper thorough dental procedure and evaluation. We’re happy to discuss things further and answer any questions should you have them, but hopefully that provides a little explanation into why we still recommend a full general anesthetic for dental procedures. 

Oral Health: More Than Just Clean Teeth – Pet Dental Awareness Month Part 2

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Dental care is not cheap, for people and pets alike. I think we can all agree on that. For our pets, a large portion of that cost is due to the fact that animals don’t tolerate proper dental cleanings while awake. Nonetheless, proper dental care is important for many reasons, primarily because it can affect the well-being of an animal in many ways that extend beyond oral health. 

In this blog post, I’ll cover why oral health is so important, and how it extends far beyond just having clean teeth. For home care tips and suggestions, check out our previous blog post here

‘Pet Dental Home Care – Saving you $$: Pet Dental Awareness Month Part 1’

Oral health is much more than clean teeth.

When we do a dental on an animal, the main goal is to clean the teeth and treat any oral pathology while we are there. Teeth frequently need to be extracted due to a tooth abscess, a resorptive lesion, a fractured tooth or other painful conditions. Bringing the mouth back to a more healthy state reduces pain and infection in the mouth as well as reducing the risk of other systemic diseases. There are also numerous other benefits outside of just treating the mouth. 

Having dirty or infected teeth and gingivitis undoubtedly causes oral discomfort. Even with low-grade infections, there are some bacteria that are showered into the bloodstream every time the gums are irritated. Every animal has an immune system that is meant to deal with small amounts of bacteria and does quite a good job of such, but the worse the teeth and gums, the more bacteria there is to deal with on an ongoing basis and the higher the risk. This is known to result in a higher risk of post-surgical infections should your pet require surgery, elevated liver and kidney enzymes, and has the potential to result in pyelonephritis or endocarditis (bacterial infections in the kidneys, heart, liver, or other organs as well) which can be tricky to diagnose and treat. 

It is not uncommon for an animal to feel and act much better following having a dental completed. Anyone who has had a toothache knows that the discomfort can affect your day to day activity. Systemic diseases as a direct result of dental pathology are not uncommon and are often the unseen manifestation of dental issues. It’s a great habit to have a peek in your pet’s mouth every now and again to see how things look. If you have any questions about the benefits and risks of dental, don’t hesitate to ask your vet about it! It’s just one part of keeping our pets happy and healthy. 


Pet Dental Home Care – Saving you $$: Pet Dental Awareness Month Part 1

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February is Pet Dental Awareness Month, not that dental care is less important any other time of the year. For cats and dogs alike, ongoing home care is recommended in order to minimize the number of dental procedures that are required at the vet’s.  Most importantly, regular dental care at home reduces the number of anesthetic procedures that your pet requires, and keeps them in better health by reducing gingivitis, oral pain and the likelihood of developing tooth abscesses and other oral infections. Another point of interest is that it may also end up saving you lots of $$ in the long run. 

If your pet currently has good dental health, here are some home care recommendations to keep it that way. Otherwise, discuss and consider a dental with your veterinarian. Starting with clean teeth makes home care much more effective and useful. Using one, or several of these measures are great ways to help maintain good oral health in your pets. 

We’ll have a follow-up blog post discussing what a dental procedure for your pet entails, as well as to address ‘anesthetic free dental cleanings’. In the meantime, here’s a link with a few things to consider before pursuing an anesthetic free dental cleaning.

Pet Dental Home Care Suggestions

1) Brushing. Brushing once daily is a great way to slow down the buildup of tartar and dental disease in your pets. It is contingent on 2 main factors though. First, your pet has to let you. Not all of our furry friends are as cooperative as we’d like them to be. Second, you have to want to do it as well. It is important to remember to use pet friendly edible toothpaste as well. Many of these are chicken, beef, or tuna flavored to help the animal tolerate the brushing better. Most of our “human” toothpastes are not meant to be ingested, and since we can’t tell our pets to spit after brushing, edible alternatives that have been specifically formulated for pets are available. If you are just starting out brushing your pets’ teeth, start slow, maybe just with a finger brush and only brushing the front few teeth. As your pet becomes more comfortable with it, slowly work your way to the back molars and add in the toothbrush. Speak to your veterinary team for tips and advice!

2) Veterinary Prescription Dental Diets. Dental diets are dry kibbles that are specially formulated to act like an oral toothbrush every time an animal eats. Most regular kibbles crumble when they are chewed on, and are very small in size requiring very little chewing action. Dental diets are formulated to not fall apart until they hit the gum line effectively scraping the tooth during chewing, as well as having significantly larger kibble sizes to facilitate increased chewing and effectiveness. 

3) Water Additives. There are several products available, some of the more common ones being ‘Healthy Mouth’ and ‘Vetradent’. These products are concentrates that are diluted into an animals drinking water. They help to reduce bacterial bio-film formation, as well as keeping tartar soft and slowing down the process of it hardening into that hard calculus that is difficult to remove from the teeth. With regular use of dental water additives, brushing, dental diets, and chewing on toys and bones becomes more effective at removing the soft tartar. 

4) Oral Sprays. These frequently act in a similar fashion to the water additives, and are just a different route of application. Water additives can sometimes very slightly change the taste of the water, and while the vast majority are not affected by it, for some animals this is an issue and causes them to drink less or avoid the water all together. Water additives are great since every time an animal drinks, they coat their mouth with the additive. Oral sprays are applied twice daily, usually after meals, and also help to reduce bacterial bio-film and calculus hardening. 

5) Dental treats. Dental treats help a bit, and as I like to call them, are like the cherry on top. They do not replace brushing or dental diets, but do help a little. If you’re going to give your pet a treat, might as well get some benefit out of it too right?

6) Chew toys/bones. Chewing is a great way for animals to reduce tartar buildup. However there is no perfect chew toy. For example, bones are great for dogs to chew on – it keeps them busy for long periods of time and helps reduce tartar buildup. However bones are very hard and can cause serious tooth fractures in some cases. Lots of dogs love chasing and playing fetch with tennis balls, but do be careful as the wiry surface of tennis balls almost acts like sand paper and causes tooth wear very quickly. Also, anything can be swallowed and cause an intestinal obstruction. Nothing is indestructible, so you will have to find something appropriate for your pet to chew on. 

New Year, New Goals: Pet Activity Trackers – gimmicky gadgets or useful tools?

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*2018* Happy New Years! *2018*

As we usher in the new year, setting new years resolutions and goals is a common practice. Whether it be eating healthier, sleeping more, or working more/less, best of luck to you! Fitness goals are commonly set; maybe it’s walking once a week, or going to the gym once a day. Activity trackers are an increasingly popular gadget used to monitor daily step counts, calories burned, sleep quality, and other activities. These gadgets can provide a wealth of information (although the motivation to use them and increase your activity still has to come from you). 

Activity trackers are not just limited to people, and their popularity is growing for pets as well. Some of the available products include FitBark, PetPace, and VetTrax. These are small devices that can be attached to your pets collar to track their activity, sleep habits and more. The question is, what use are these products, and should you spend the money on them?

Various reasons exist for tracking your activity – just for fun, for interests sake, and to track training progress. Medically speaking, for both people and animals, these devices are not proven to be completely accurate. However the data they collect and record can provide some insight which can sometimes be correlated to a pets health. This can be useful in some cases where we are not able to monitor them for large portions of the day like when we’re at work. 

For example, if you see a drop in your pets daily activity but are not changing any of your habits or routines, this may indicate or underlying injury or disease causing pain or lethargy. This may include anything from normal aging, arthritis, cruciate ligament injuries, or other systemic diseases that may cause lethargy and discomfort. If you have a dog with allergies and pruritis that is scratching throughout the night, sleep monitoring can provide some insight in to how much response to treatment there is. 

At the end of the day, these devices are not diagnostic tools, but can offer some insights into how an animal is feeling. If you enjoy tracking and recording things, they can be a fun way to monitor your pets activity, and set goals for your pet and yourself.