While most of us go to the dentist every 6 months or so for a preventative cleaning and exam, many pet owners have some common misunderstandings regarding the importance of frequent dental check-ups for our dogs. Here, our Diablo View veterinarians discuss some of the most common myths regarding your pet’s dental care.
Myth 1: If your pet's teeth do not have a large quantity of dental tartar, a yearly anesthetic oral examination and periodontal cleaning is not required.
The truth: While a regular oral assessment and cleaning is necessary to remove calculus build-up, there are many problems with your pet’s teeth that cannot be seen by the naked eye, or without your pet under general anesthesia.
For one thing, it is impossible for a veterinarian to see the interior of your pet's mouth when they are awake. Unlike when people visit the dentist, your veterinarian cannot simply instruct your pet to "say ahh" and see all that is going on in his or her mouth. For example, if your pet has an oral tumor that is far back and concealed behind their tongue, your veterinarian may be unable to see and remove it while it is still tiny. A sedated oral exam isn't always about the teeth. While your pet is sedated, your veterinarian will be able to see the whole mouth and may be able to detect any problem areas early.
The second reason why this is a myth is that you cannot see the entire structure of a tooth without dental radiographs. In fact, two-thirds of your dog and cat’s teeth are under the gumline. Dental radiographs allow the veterinarian to assess the teeth for fractures, bone loss, abscesses and other signs of internal disease. Radiographs should be taken if your pet is having a periodontal cleaning. A tooth may seem totally normal on the surface, but a radiograph will disclose many abnormalities.
Myth 2: If you have an older pet, it isn’t safe for them to go under anesthesia.
The truth: It is typical for pet owners to believe that their pet is "too old" to undergo general anesthesia. The danger of anesthesia-related problems is low as long as a proper pre-anesthetic workup reveals that there are no underlying diseases that might put them at risk.
Severe dental disease has the potential to compromise more than just your pet’s mouth. Because bacteria from the mouth constantly enters the bloodstream, it can also cause harm to your pet’s heart, liver, and kidneys. These diseases will often pose a larger risk to your pet than the anesthesia itself. Don’t let age be the reason why your pet doesn’t receive proper dental care.
Myth 3: If your pet doesn't appear to be in discomfort as a result of their dental condition, they generally aren't.
The truth: Dogs and cats will often display pain differently than people do. With strong survival instincts, most pets will continue to eat and appear pain-free, in spite of having severe and painful periodontal disease. It is not usually until the pet’s dental disease has been properly addressed, that a pet owner will notice the positive changes in their pets.
In fact, we hear this all the time. Comments like “wow she is acting like a kitten again,” or “he hasn’t played like this in years” are constantly heard by our clients after their pet has had painful and diseased teeth removed.
Myth 4: If my pet has any of his teeth extracted, he will not be able to eat.
The truth: Believe it or not, many dogs and cats do little extensive chewing of their food, prior to swallowing. If your pet ate dry food before the extractions, they will most likely be able to consume it again once the extraction areas have healed. While we see dogs and cats doing this all the time, owners are allowed to convert their pet to canned food or begin moistening their dry food with water if they believe it would make eating simpler for their pet. The primary objective is always to increase the pet's quality of life.
Myth 5: Bad breath is normal for a dog and cat.
The truth: While your pet’s breath will probably never smell minty fresh, any extreme odors should be evaluated by your veterinarian. Most pets with very foul-smelling breath will have some form of periodontal disease that needs to be addressed.
Myth 6: At-home dental care doesn’t matter as long as I am getting routine dental care with my veterinarian.
The truth: At-home dental care may make a significant impact on your pet's oral health. While brushing is the gold standard for decreasing plaque, tartar, and unhealthy teeth, it is not always a simple chore for pet owners. If you cannot brush, talk to your veterinarian about a variety of VOHC-approved chews and oral rinses that can help care for your pet’s teeth in between their preventative visits with their veterinary dentist.