Many dogs, and some cats, come to us with significant dental disease. Since dogs and cats do not brush their own teeth, and many owners do not brush their teeth for them, buildup of calculus and tartar are a common finding. If you look in your pet’s mouth, you may notice greenish or brownish material on the side of your pets teeth. Many times you will see this right at the gumline. This material is abnormal and does not belong there. Infection can start to develop under this material and under the gumline, and invade the roots and supporting structures of the tooth. This causes the tooth to loosen up, and can lead to loss of the tooth. The infection can also get into the bloodstream, and cause for heart and kidney disease.
I examine the teeth, as long as your pet is cooperative, every time we examine your pet. I will tell you when your pet has enough calculus on the teeth to justify anesthetizing your friend and cleaning off the teeth. We do have to put your pet under general anesthesia to do this, as we use an ultrasonic scaler whose tip vibrates at 20,000 cycles per second, and our pet will not sit still for us to do that without anesthesia. Every time I decide whether it is appropriate to take a course of action, I look at the cost of what we are doing, and the benefits we expect to derive. I look at cost not just in terms of dollar amount, but also in terms of risk to the patient, discomfort, time commitment. If there is enough calculus built up on your pets teeth to justify the costs involved, I will then suggest that we do anesthetize him or her and work on the teeth.
We then have you bring your pet in on an empty stomach and leave them with us. We may do bloodwork before hand, and we may also start your friend on antibiotics several days before the procedure. We then anesthetize the patient, clean the teeth, and remove any loose ones. We may or may not give your pet fluids during the procedure. If we extract teeth, we usually send along pain medication for you to give afterwards, and we may send along antibiotics if we have not already done so.
Once we do this, I do recommend you brush your dog’s teeth. Brushing does not remove the hard material that we remove here, but will slow down the deposition of that material, and is a very good thing for you to do. Fortunately, most of my patients do not mind having their teeth brushed. Unfortunately, most of my clients don’t like to do this, so if I recommend this to 100 people, if 5 or 10 of them even try it, I feel that I am pretty lucky. I ask that you start out by using toothpaste or baking soda on your finger or a piece of cloth or gauze. A lot of pets will let you work up to a soft bristled brush. You hear some people say you can not use human toothpaste, it will make your pet throw up. It is perfectly acceptable to use human toothpaste, as long as you use a small amount. We can order animal flavored toothpaste (liver, chicken, fish), for you if you would like, and we can also order you a kit that contains that toothpaste and several toothbrushes, 1 of which fits on the end of your finger.
Sometimes pets break off parts of their teeth. This usually is not a big problem. However, there are some instances in which your pet would benefit from having a root canal done, and in those cases we will refer you to someone who is skilled in performing those.
To summarize, your pets dental health is actually a very important thing to maintain. I will let you know after I examine your pet’s mouth what you need to do to maintain or improve their dental health.