The Importance of Dental Care For Your Pets
Maintaining your pet’s dental health is one of the most important pro-active health measures you can provide your animals. Along with vaccinations and good nutrition, the maintenance of exceptional dental health is a leader in affecting both the quality and length of pets’ lives!
So why do animals need to have regular deep cleaning of their teeth?
Think of this: Human dentists recommend deep cleaning of your teeth every 6 months. This is for humans who are also supposed to be brushing their teeth twice daily.
There are some very dedicated owners and tolerant animals that will accomplish once daily brushing, but the average pet has their teeth brushed either very infrequently or not at all. This means that they are in even greater need for regular deep cleanings than humans are.
Despite this, most pets only receive a dental cleaning a few times in their lives, if at all.
In this blog, we’ll go over the details and importance of getting your pet a proper dental cleaning, and all the different steps that make up the procedure.
To Clean or Not To Clean?
The most common hesitation among the most dedicated of pet owners for not getting their pets routine dental cleanings is a fear surrounding anesthesia.
It is imperative that animals are anesthetized to have a truly thorough dental cleaning performed. It is not fair to expect our pets to behave as we humans do and lay still while opening their mouths wide and allowing scaling of the crowns of their teeth and under their sensitive gum-lines.
Dental x-rays are also necessary for a full evaluation of the teeth just as they are in humans. And so far, it is impossible to explain to pets the necessity for them to not bite down on delicate dental x-ray equipment! For these reasons, anesthesia allows a very low stress experience for the pet and the best opportunity for your vet to assess and properly care for their teeth.
Proper anesthetic protocols have exponentially increased the safety and comfort of anesthesia for pets in the last 20 years. Thorough pre-anesthetic screening of heart and organ function allow the best decisions to be made not only on the timing of procedures but on medications chosen to keep pets safe and comfortable. Good anesthetic prescreening includes a blood panel and thorough examination from a veterinarian. For some animals, it may also include a pre-anesthetic heart evaluation with an EKG machine.
As with many aspects of animal care, when it comes to dental health you get what you pay for! A well run and safe anesthetic procedure coupled with a thorough dental evaluation and cleaning, performed by exceptionally trained staff, with state of the art equipment has a price.
The second largest barrier to owners choosing to be pro-active about their animals’ dental health is cost. The anesthesia used for a pet’s dental exam is no different from that of any surgery an animal would undergo. The same care and precision of execution apply to it as well.
Veterinarians endeavor to keep the costs of these procedures as low as possible because we recognize the extraordinary health benefits to our patients, as well as the need to keep them out of pain from rotting teeth! Pet owners should always ask to see an estimate of the dental to be performed with an itemization of the charges. And remember, if it seems too cheap, it probably is, and it is possible that corners are being cut to minimize cost to the detriment of the safety and comfort of your pet.
Elements of a Routine Dental Cleaning
In our experience, pet owners are often apprehensive of giving their pets exams they’re unfamiliar with. So we wanted to cover all of the bases here– Below you will find the key elements that should be included on an estimate for a dental exam to ensure that a high standard of care is being followed by the veterinary practice you have chosen to perform this procedure on your pet.
As with any procedure, the specifics will vary from vet to vet. But there are some key pieces of a dental exam, and the pre- and post-op care, that we (and most reputable vets) always perform.
An examination of your pet prior to the procedure is necessary to check for any problems that may need to be evaluated, managed, or corrected prior to the dental.
These might include heart murmurs, neurologic problems or respiratory difficulties. Even things like back pain can affect how an animal is handled while under the influence of anesthetics.
Your vet can also evaluate your pet’s teeth to some extent during the examination to better inform you on the potential for the need to extract teeth.
Keep in mind that a much more thorough evaluation will be performed once your animal is anesthetized, and additional problems may be identified at that time. It’s a little like taking your car to the mechanic: they won’t have the whole picture until they look under the hood!
Pre-anesthetic Blood Panel:
Owners often question the validity of needing a blood panel on their apparently healthy pet prior to an anesthetic procedure. However many diseases of organs such as kidney and liver and deficiencies such as anemia can be present for months or years before you see any outward symptoms in an animal. These underlying conditions can greatly affect how an animal responds to and recovers from anesthesia.
Having this information also helps your vet to make informed decisions on how to customize medications for your individual animal.
Intravenous Catheter Placement and Fluid Administration:
Venous access by catheter is imperative for the safety of your pet. This allows us to administer medications directly into your animal’s bloodstream, both for the induction and optimal maintenance of anesthesia as well as in the unlikely event that an emergency arises.
Venous access also allows IV fluids to be administered to support your pet’s optimal blood pressure and maintain hydration.
Safe and effective anesthesia is all about supporting the normal functions of the body while putting the brain into a state of controlled unconsciousness. This allows us to block the perception or experience of pain and stress. We always aim to minimize the amount of anesthesia that must be administered to achieve these goals, as well as keep the body as close to its normal state as possible.
Pre-anesthetic medications allow us to block pain in ways that are complementary to the gas anesthetics we use. By giving a narcotic, anti-inflammatory, or other types of medications prior to the procedure we are able to use a much lower level of gas for the maintenance of anesthesia since these other medications are helping to also block these same pain perceptions.
The other major benefit to pre-medication is the prevention of “wind-up.” Think about stubbing your toe: it hurts a lot but you can move past it fairly quickly. Now think about how you feel if you hit your head within minutes of stubbing your toe. The pain in your toe is perceived as greater after you have just experienced the pain in your head.
This is called wind-up! As your (or your pet’s) body experiences discomfort, it has a harder time processing additional discomforts. If we can start blocking any sort of pain or discomfort before it even starts, the discomfort the animal feels is greatly diminished overall.
This is very important for animals who will undergo any tooth extractions or oral surgery during their procedures. Routine dental cleanings are often non-painful but animals still benefit from the overall reduction in anesthetic necessary with the use of these pre-medications.
Mouths, human and animal alike, are full of bacteria! As we undergo the cleaning of teeth and gums, often the gums will bleed due to underlying gingivitis and dental disease. This opens a portal for bacteria in the mouth to enter the bloodstream. If we administer an injectable antibiotic prior to the procedure it will be circulating in the bloodstream during the cleaning and kill any bacteria that attempt to invade.
Monitoring of the state of a pet’s body is necessary to optimize the normalcy the body experiences while under anesthetic as well as detect any problems rapidly.
Technology has made it possible to monitor very closely multiple parameters that tell the doctor that the animal is stable and doing well under anesthetic. If you see this charge on an estimate, it likely means that the clinic has invested in the best equipment to be sure they are optimizing the anesthesia experience for your animal.
This is what we call the “10,9,8,7,6…” injection. This is the one where, for humans, the doctor injects and tells you to count backward from 10. Induction injections for pets are designed to induce the anesthetic plane so that an animal can be comfortably intubated (have a breathing tube put in) to then start the gas anesthetic.
Your pet will not feel this injection as it is administered through the already placed intravenous catheter.
The safest anesthesia available is that administered via gas anesthetic. A breathing tube is placed and your pet breaths a combination of oxygen and anesthetic that keep them sleeping throughout the procedure. The breathing tube also allows us to control precisely the amount of oxygen that is in the bloodstream, which is closely monitored by our other equipment.
Dental Prophylaxis (This is the Cleaning Part!)
All of the rest of that is just preparations to finally get to the dental cleaning!
We use sophisticated ultrasonic scaling devices to clean teeth very thoroughly because our patients are asleep for these procedures. During the cleaning, the tartar is removed with the scaler both on the crown of the tooth as well as, more importantly, under the gum-line. The bacteria associated with dental and gum disease live in pockets under the gum-line so deep cleaning is imperative to truly prevent and treat disease.
The cleaning is then followed up by polishing the teeth. This is also very important as the cleaning process creates microgrooves on the enamel of the teeth that increase the surface area for tarter to accumulate over time. Polishing gives teeth a smooth surface that is harder for plaque and tartar to build up on, thus causing the cleaning your pet has undergone to last even longer.
A good dental prophylaxis should also be followed up by a fluoride treatment to further strengthen tooth enamel.
Along with all of the pieces above, if the animal needs any teeth extracted during the procedure, there can be some additional costs associated.
Not all teeth are created equal when it comes to removal. Some teeth have 1 root, some 2 and others are 3 rooted. The number, size, shape, and health of these roots all contribute to the difficulty and time involved in extracting them.
Other factors such as the health of the underlying bone can also complicate extractions. Some teeth can be extracted simply by hand and others must be sectioned into pieces prior to removal requiring specialized equipment and surgical skill.
Local Anesthetic for Extractions:
As discussed above, the reduction of any painful stimulus via adjunctive medications will allow us to keep the anesthetic levels lower for your pet.
The use of local anesthetic blocks directly to nerves in the mouth cause a local prevention of any discomfort and thus reduces anesthetic needs. The added benefits come from post-operative pain control as these blocks will last for hours after the procedure, keeping your pet comfortable and happy as they recover.
Pain Medication to Take Home:
We will have done a good job in preventing the wind-up of pain during an oral procedure, and we want to maintain that pain free state at home! Any animal that has had a dental extraction deserves to be sent home with pain control medications to be administered by the loving pet owner (you!).
Antibiotics to Take Home:
Antibiotics to go home are only necessary if teeth are extracted or if a gingival disease is determined to be severe enough to need additional antibiotic support fo healing after the procedure.
These medications are often in pill form and should be administered for their full course to get optimal results and prevent the production of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Additional Anesthetic Time:
The need to extract teeth will increase the time needed under anesthesia for your pet so there are often charges associated with the additional materials and monitoring necessary.
Take the Stress Out of Vet Visits
Hopefully now you understand the elements that go into the cost of the appropriate dental care for your pet. We also hope you see that our bottom line is that your pet will feel comfortable before, during, and after the procedure, and that ceases to be an obstacle to getting your pet the dental care it needs!
However, the final and probably most important barrier to clients seeking dental care for their pets is the stress that it incurs to both the pet and the owner.
In traditional veterinary practices animals are dropped off for a full day to facilitate the procedure. This means they must be caged and often recover without direct supervision or comfort from their owners.
This is where Vet’s Here and our full service mobile vet clinic is changing how dental care is experienced by pets and their owners.
A dental procedure performed in one of our mobile units is done at your home. Your pet is brought to the truck, medicated, and put under anesthesia within approximately 20 minutes. The procedure is performed at your home or office where you are available for consultation if needed (after we look under the hood!).
Animals are recovered from anesthesia and the average time from their first consciousness to inside the home is approximately 15 to 20 minutes! The remainder of their rest and recovery is in their own cozy bed with their owners by their side!
We have developed exceptional short-acting anesthetic protocols that allow animals to be very functional just after the procedure but still maintain any necessary pain control. Your stress is minimized by limiting the time away from your pet as well as making the whole experience more convenient.
The stress your animals incur is also minimized by allowing them to be at home until just prior to their procedure and re-enter their familiar environment as soon as possible!
An additional benefit to mobile dentistry is that our Vet’s Here doctors and assistants are focused solely on your animal without other animals to care for and the inevitable distractions of a traditional clinic.
If you would like more information about Vet’s Here and our mobile dentistry or are interested in scheduling an initial visit, please reach out to us online or give us a call at 1-888-Vet2Pet.