When your dog gives you kisses do you almost pass out from the stench of her breath?
Pet dental disease is one of the most common disorders diagnosed on wellness exams. It is estimated that 80% of dogs and 70% of cats over the age of 3 years suffer from some degree of periodontal disease.
While a dental cleaning provides whiter teeth and fresh breath, the main benefit is to your pet’s overall health. Consider this: every time your pet chews, bacteria is showered into the bloodstream. This then lodges in the kidneys, liver, lungs and heart causing damage and disease. In addition, open fractures, feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions, tooth root abscesses, and worn teeth are painful and can act as a constant source of discomfort for your pet.
Kitties develop a unique lesion called feline odontoclastic resportive lesions or FORLs. These are similar to human cavities in that there is a defect in the enamel of the tooth and it is very painful. If your cat is over the age of 5 years old then there is a 72% chance a FORL is present.
These nasty FORLs are usually found along the outer surface of the tooth where it meets the gum line. They can present in many stages requiring dental radiographs to determine if the tooth root is involved. At the beginning stage an enamel defect is present which then progresses as the FORL penetrates the enamel and invades the pulp cavity. As the lesion develops it becomes increasingly more painful for your cat. Treatment entails a full dental exam under anesthesia and surgical extraction of the offending tooth.
Veterinarians are not sure why this happens but we do know it is extremely painful and unpleasant for your kitty. While clinical signs such as difficulty eating, drooling, bleeding at the site and dropping food from the mouth may be present; some cats to not show any obvious signs of pain. You should check your cat’s teeth monthly for any obvious FORLs which appear as pink or red defects in the tooth where it meets the gum. In addition, at your pet’s annual exam your veterinarian should perform as thorough an oral exam as your cat will tolerate (cats can be very opinionated about who they allow to look into their mouth) to check for any of these lesions.
Rather than wait for a problem to develop, it is best to perform a dental cleaning when only mild gingivitis and/or tartar are present. This will maintain good dental health and prevent disease before it becomes a problem. This ultimately results in saving you money and more importantly keeping your pet as healthy as possible.
I realize a dental cleaning is not only expensive but it can be scary to put your pet under anesthesia. While anesthesia is daunting, if done correctly there is a very low risk of fatal complications. Ask your veterinarian what anesthetic protocol and monitoring tools he or she uses. At a minimum constant monitoring of heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen levels and respiratory rate should be performed. Certainly, general anesthesia should be respected, but please don’t let fear keep you from moving forward with a procedure that will benefit your pet’s health. I strongly believe that the low risk of anesthetic complications is far outweighed by the benefits of good dental health.
After continuously seeing the many complications that can arise from poor dental health I obsessively check my pet’s teeth. My two older dogs have had regular dental cleanings done and my kitty Furla had two FORLs extracted. Schedule a dental cleaning and start enjoying those doggie kisses again.
Ashley Gallagher, DVM