Over the past years our practice has been very dedicated to educating our clients about their pets' oral health and hygiene. Many of our clients have also taken advantage of our dental cleaning procedures, and when necessary, surgical extractions have been made. Despite the sometimes unexpected expense of such work, as well as the risks of general anesthesia, countless pets have benefited and are much happier and healthier as a result. It is very rewarding to see patients back one week after procedures and have their owners tell us that they never realized what a difference it would make, and how much happier and spunkier their pets are after their oral issues have been addressed!
We continue to focus heavily on oral hygiene because periodontal disease is still the number one health problem in small animal practices nationwide. This is due to a number of factors. Smaller dogs and cats make up an increasingly large percentage of our pet population, and small dogs in particular, do not have the same dental health that their large dog counterparts experience, even in younger years. What generally starts as plaque accumulation and gingivitis, progresses to tartar accumulation and periodontitis. Eventually bone loss leads to tooth mobility and loss of attachment, and infection sets in. Without proper daily brushing or routine cleanings, this will lead to increasing oral health problems that can affect other organ systems in the body, as well as the comfort of our pets. This is happening to many patients at an increasingly earlier age, and it is important to acknowledge that so that it can be appropriately prevented.
We include an oral exam as part of our annual physical exam every year, and we are now adding dental radiographs as a routine part of our dental heath program. Pets who receive dental cleanings (always under general anesthesia), will also receive full mouth dental X-rays to allow us to identify problems that may be imminent under the gum line. This will also allow us to better qualify dental problems we may find above the gum line. Just as with your own dental care, routine dental X-rays are a vital part of evaluating our pet's teeth and oral health.
Here is an example of X-rays from a recent procedure where the canine tooth was loose and infected. With the X-rays we could see that the underlying cause of the infection was due to a retained root from a baby tooth that had broken off, but the root remained, leading to an infection which spread to the larger canine tooth. Both had to be extracted. If we had just extracted the canine tooth without the unseen root, the dog would have continued to have an infected retained root that would eventually have caused chronic sinus problems, and mouth pain. In this film, you can also see an incisor tooth that had a hooked root and loss of bone attachment due to progressive periodontal disease. This tooth also needed to be extracted. This little dog is a 4 year old Yorkshire Terrier mix weighing only 6 lbs. who is now doing great after her dental work.
Often owners will tell us that they have not observed any signs of pain and the pet is still eating. Fortunately tooth pain does not usually cause us to stop eating, but the pain is real. And if an infection continues to fester, the consequences of that can cause things to become more serious. On thinking back to any personal experiences with tooth problems we may have had, we realize that we did not completely stop eating, but that we most likely changed how we ate, and yes the pain was worthy of addressing. Invariably, the pain relief is visible to owners after the procedure by way of a happier and more active and playful companion!
Feel free to ask us more about your pet's oral health any time. We look forward to helping you keep their teeth and gums healthy, and keeping your pets happy!