By: Dr. Branka Grubor
Having lived numerous years on a shoestring budget during university, I was guilty, as many students are, of self-neglect. First expenditure that got scrapped was regular dentist visits. After all, I had been blessed with a healthy set of teeth, was diligent at brushing two times daily, flossed regularly and could hardly recall a single toothache as an adult.
More years passed than I care to admit when I finally made my overdue dentist visit. Though I followed a solid dental hygiene routine at home, my dentist was not impressed. He pointed out that my gums were receding and that I was at the risk of (eventually) premature tooth loss. He found that pockets had formed around some teeth that required scaling and deep root cleaning if full health was to be restored. Full dental x-rays completed the picture. The periodontal disease had taken hold and needed to be aggressively addressed. I was set up on a plan that involved not only the more invasive and deeper cleaning but also an increased frequency of routine dental cleanings. While none of the dramatic changes occurring under my gumline were obvious to me, this was a rude awakening. It was a reminder of how important and powerful prophylaxis truly is. Prophylactic dental (and medical) care is about looking way down the road and doing all one can to keep the set complete.
Dog and cat teeth, gums and periodontal tissues (supporting structures and tissues around the teeth) are remarkably similar to ours. Periodontal disease begins with plaque and bacteria accumulating under the gumline. Left untreated, it leads to painful inflammation, gum recession, deep pocket formation, bone loss, and eventual tooth loss. It is the leading cause of oral pain and early tooth loss in our patients. While our pets can learn to get by without teeth, it is our responsibility to do what we can so they do not have to. After all, dogs and cats not only use their teeth to chew and eat, but they experience and interact with so much of their world using their pearly whites! In so many ways, what fingers are to us, teeth are to them.
So, what can we do? Routine dental prophylaxis combined with at home oral hygiene is the cornerstone of periodontal disease prevention and treatment. During your office appointment, we will perform a full physical and oral exam to estimate the degree of dental disease and treatment that may be required. While most conscious patients will allow us to estimate the extent of oral disease, full oral assessment and treatment can only be performed under general anesthesia in dogs and cats. Since periodontal disease affects tissues under the gumline, detecting and addressing problems in this area is essential in reversing and stopping disease progression. This means that once safely under anesthesia, gums surrounding every tooth are carefully probed to detect changes that may warrant intervention. Dental x-rays, in combination with careful examination, may be used to determine if oral surgery or extractions are necessary. Thorough scaling (mechanical cleaning of dental plaque) of all tooth surfaces above and below the gumline is performed, followed by polishing to slow down future plaque formation. At the time of discharge home, we will show you how to carry on the oral care at home and ensure the long-lasting effect of professional cleaning.
We promote prophylaxis because prevention works. While you may notice that your furry family member has bad breath, red gums, tartar, or even pain while prehending food and toys, dental disease has often started long before those signs are noted. Dogs, and particularly cats, are so good at hiding pain that once we, their humans, become aware of a dental problem, it is very common that periodontal disease has advanced. That is why we invite you to schedule a dental exam for your pet and keep the long-term benefits of healthy, pain-free teeth as the prize. As for me, writing this blog reminds me that I am scheduled for my own dentist visit soon.