FAQ's about dental procedures and your pet

Easily 80% of the dogs and cats are afflicted with varying stages of dental disease which is one of the many reasons vets encourage annual health checks. If left untreated, dental disease can have serious implications for your pets overall health such as the development of heart, liver or kidney disease.


Why is an anaesthetic required for a simple dental clean?

Plaque and tartar is composed of bacteria.  When it is removed from the surface of the teeth small pieces could be inhaled by the patient causing a lung infection. For this reason, “non-anaesthetic” cleaning should NEVER be recommended.  Anaesthesia allows an endotracheal tube to be placed in the windpipe to prevent infection in the lungs. Secondly, the most important part of the cleaning is the removal of plaque and tartar below the gumline. This is just not possible in an awake pet. And lastly, the teeth are not polished, which will leave the cleaned surface rough and actually increase the adherence of plaque to the teeth.


Is my pet too old for a dental procedure? 

AGE IS NOT A DISEASE and mature pets that are otherwise healthy are able to tolerate anaesthesia well.  A pet that is older is more likely to have severe periodontal disease and thus more pain. These animals still need care in order to maintain the quality of their lives. Taking care of their gums and teeth is also one of the best ways to extend their lifespan. 

Vets quite often hear from clients about older pets who have had previous issues under anaesthesia.  Twenty years ago many of these concerns would be valid reasons for not proceeding with an elective procedure in an older pet.  Fortunately, things have changed for pets having anaesthesia today.  Contemporary anaesthesia is much safer in several ways.

First, pre-anaesthetic examinations and testing helps to recognize those pets that are having internal problems that aren't yet recognizable by their owners at home. If a problem is found, it can be resolved before allowing the pet to undergo anaesthesia.

Second, the combination of modern inhalant gas and dental nerve blocks is a much safer arrangement than using only injectable agents to achieve an appropriate level of anaesthesia.

Third, monitoring has changed from merely watching to see if the animal is breathing to tracking pulse rate and quality, blood pressure, respiratory rate, temperature and electrical rhythm of the heart.  When pets are being monitored appropriately it allows veterinarians and vet nurses to detect abnormalities and initiate therapy to avoid anaesthetic problems. 

Fourth, it is strongly recommended that all pets undergoing dental care now receive fluid therapy by intravenous catheter during anaesthesia to maintain vascular volume and blood pressure.  This protects sensitive brain and kidney cells.  Vets can also use thermal support, to prevent hypothermia during anesthesia, which can change the rate at which the drugs are processed.


Will my pet still be able to eat without these teeth?

Yes. The goal in veterinary dental care is for patients to have mouths free of infection and pain. It is much better to have no tooth at all than to have an infected tooth with a root abscess or a painful broken tooth.  There are many dog and cat patients that are able to eat a regular dry diet with few or even no teeth!


My pet isn't showing any signs of pain, will it stop eating if there is pain? 

Pets have an extremely strong instinct to survive no matter what discomfort they feel. Some pets will stop eating altogether when their teeth, bone and gums hurt badly enough, however the vast majority will find some tactic to keep eating. They may chew on one side of their mouth or swallow biscuits whole. Sometimes the symptoms of periodontal disease are so vague we don't notice them.  Pets may be reluctant to hold their toys in their mouths, be less playful, resent having their teeth brushed or faces touched, have a hard time sleeping, cats may not groom themselves or pets may have no outward symptoms at all. Often, after a dental procedure, patients' owners report they act more energetic and playful than they have been in years!


How often should a routine dental cleaning be performed?

Every patient is different so this is a hard question to answer. Usually smaller dogs should have their teeth cleaned earlier and more often because their teeth are more crowded in their mouths. Bigger dogs may not develop tartar as quickly but their mouths should be monitored closely for any broken teeth. Cats are all individuals and should be examined closely for any excessive gingivitis which may be an indication of some special cat diseases like resorptive lesions or stomatitis/gingivitis syndrome. 


How can periodontal disease hurt my pet?

The possible local (ie in the mouth) effects of periodontal disease are pain, infection of the gums, bone and/or teeth, and loss of teeth.  Chronic infection of the periodontal tissues allows bacteria to enter the circulatory system resulting in seeding of the internal organs (heart, kidneys, liver) and may lead to serious infections in these organs as well.


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