It’s estimated that 80 percent of dogs have some grade of dental disease by the age of three, in particular those who haven’t received any form of early dental care. While humans can keep the buildup of plaque at bay by brushing their pearly whites twice a day, poor Oliver is subjected to the relentless accumulation of plaque throughout his doggy years. As plaque accumulates, it mineralizes, causing the buildup of rough tartar which further attracts plaque, ultimately causing a vicious cycle. As the buildup progresses, the gums soon get inflamed leading to painful periodontal disease, and eventually, tooth loss.
How do you brush a dog’s teeth?
Although not recommended, you can clean your dog’s teeth by your own, with special dog toothpaste and tooth-brushing kit. Do NOT use regular human toothpaste for your dog. In most cases, it is generally recommended to seek professional dog dental cleaning service.
Traditional Dental Cleaning
Generally, periodontal disease is discovered by the vet during a pet’s routine wellness exam. The vet notices the presence of plaque and tartar as well as the inflamed gums. The smell of the dog’s breath further confirms problematic dental disease. Some vets may also use a diagnostic test strip capable of detecting periodontal infection below the dog’s gum line even before the signs of periodontal disease are visible. The test strip simply changes color upon detecting the early signs of periodontal infections.
Should the vet deem a dental cleaning necessary, he will run a battery of tests so to determine the dog’s health status and decide the best anesthetic protocol custom tailored to the individual dog. When all test results are back, and no particular health problems are encountered, a dental cleaning is scheduled. In most cases, a dental cleaning is done under anesthesia. For dog owners questioning why anesthesia is needed, there is a reasonable answer.
While dental problems in humans are easily solved with a dental visit and the use of local anesthetics to keep pain at bay, dogs for obvious reasons cannot stay immobile with their mouths open wide while odd, loud, and mostly scary instruments are inserted into their jaws. On top of that, vets of course would feel quite vulnerable keeping their hands deep inside Oliver’s mouth! Total anesthesia, therefore, is most likely needed to help keep Oliver calm and immobile, and the vet comfortable and safe.
Once under anesthesia, the pet is kept warm and its vital signs are carefully monitored. All tooth surfaces are examined one by one for fractures, wear and mobility. The vet may take x-rays and apply local antibiotics to infected gum pockets and may perform extractions as needed. The vet then cleans the teeth one by one using an ultrasonic scaler meant to effectively remove tartar and plaque. Afterward, the teeth are polished and a sealant is applied so to lower the chances of plaque re-accumulating. Further dental care will lower the chances of future plaque reforming. The Veterinary Oral Health Council has awarded several dog dental products a seal of acceptance for helping prevent the formation of plaque.
Unconventional Dental Cleaning
Many dog owners are reluctant to have their dog’s teeth cleaned because they are worried about the use of anesthetics. More and more companies are now offering unconventional dental cleaning options. A leader in this field is Pet Dental Services offering anesthesia-free cleaning done under the supervision of veterinarians. A common question that comes to mind is how can they effectively clean teeth with a pet squirming and being overall uncooperative? According to the Pet Dental Services website their employees use gentle methods and address dogs with the same patience and compassion used to address a frightened child at his first dental appointment.
Of course, not all dogs make ideal candidates for this procedure, but as trust is built, there are claims of dogs becoming compliant and allowing for the dental cleaning to take place. What dogs would benefit from anesthesia-free cleanings the most? The older dogs of course, along with dogs suffering from kidney, liver or heart disease; basically, all those dogs who would normally be considered at risk for a traditional cleaning done under anesthesia.
Evaluating The Options
As much as an anesthetic-free dental cleaning sounds like appealing news, there are always two sides of the story. The American Veterinary Dental College (ADVC) warns about dental cleanings conducted without anesthesia for various reasons. For starters, they are concerned about safety. Any abrupt head movement from the dog could potentially cause an injury to delicate oral tissues, not to mention the risk of being bitten should the dog become uncooperative and react.
On top of that, AVDC claims that it’s quite impossible to evaluate the overall oral health status of the non-anesthetized dog, and most of all, it would be very difficult to scale hard-to-reach areas, such as the inner sides of the teeth and the deeper subgingival area in a non-anesthetized dog. For obvious reasons, hand-held scalers are needed to replace the noisy, vibrating ultrasonic scalers which are known for doing the job best. It’s also important to understand that despite the great care, the whole experience can cause discomfort, pain and stress since some dogs just won’t tolerate it. Another source of concern are dental cleaning procedures being carried out without veterinary supervision by groomers or technicians operating secretly in the back room of a pet store without veterinary supervision.
So who should perform dental cleanings?
Board Certified Specialists in Veterinary Dentistry
These folks are veterinary dentists who have specialized and attained intensive training in dental care. Unfortunately, they’re not that easy to come by. While they can perform dental cleanings, they’re mostly sought for complicated specialty work when they do perform dental cleanings, they mostly charge a premium for them.
If a dog needs a dental cleaning, most likely the average licensed veterinarian is up for the task. Regular vets are fully qualified to perform oral examinations, dental cleanings and minor procedures such as extractions.They will refer to veterinary dentists though for more complicated affairs such as root canals or oral surgery.
The AVDC supports the practice of training veterinary technicians to perform minor dental procedures such as supragingival scaling and polishing, taking x-rays and making dental impressions. Registered dental hygienists, dentists and other health care providers in good standing care are also allowed to perform such procedures as long as they’re conducted under the direct supervision of a veterinarian.
The Bottom Line
So if dog owners are concerned about anesthesia, but don’t want their dog to undergo a procedure that could put him at risk for injury, potentially ineffective, and on top of that, performed by a non-veterinarian without veterinarian supervision, what other options are left? Some veterinarians may occasionally do anesthesia-free dental cleanings or have other professionals perform them under their supervision when they deem it helpful. However, it’s important to realize that the risks for anesthesia complications in traditional dental cleanings are minimal with reassuring statistics of 1 reaction in 100,000. That’s less risky than taking Oliver for a car ride to and from the vet’s office, explains veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker!
There no doubt that plaque and tartar do much more than cause bad breath. Affected dogs may be in pain when they chew on toys or eat their food. They may appear cranky or in a bad mood. Worst of all, teeth may loosen and eventually fall, and in the case of bacterial infections, the bacteria may enter the dog’s bloodstream potentially affecting important organs such as the heart, lungs, kidneys and liver. Veterinarians should always be consulted for a thorough pre-cleaning examination, evaluation, cleaning and then post-cleaning care regardless if the dental cleaning is done with or without anesthesia.