Pet Care, Veterinary Health Topics

Pet Dental Care: Why the Resistance?

Pet dental care is so much more than white teeth and great smelling breath. 85% of dogs over the age of 3 will have some degree of periodontal disease. Periodontal disease not only leads to unsightly tarter and bad breath, but causes infection, bone loss, and chronic pain when left untreated.

Dental disease is one of the most common diagnoses in the exam room yet brushing and regular maintenance is hard. For puppies and kittens, we send home dental kits with the hopes of acclimating them to a lifetime of brushing and at-home dental care. We hope for regular, routine dental care throughout the pet’s lifetime with the intention of avoiding infection and pain and that one monumental dental experience as a senior pet where a lifetime of inattention results in dental extractions.

Adult-dogs-infogprahic dental

How do we define neglect? What if I showed you this picture of a dog’s mouth and told you she was a puppy mill survivor forced to have a litter every year, living in a tiny cage with matted fur, with no dental care (not even a dental treat in her lifetime). Is this neglect?

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Pom puppy mill

Now what if I told you these were the teeth of a very beloved 10 year old Pomeranian who lived in the lap of luxury with a well tended hair coat and wardrobe accessories. She had complete adoration and attention to all of her medical needs….except dental care. What if I told you while her owner loved her very much it was that very love that prevented her from tending to her pet’s dental issues? What if I told you her person’s fear of anesthesia forced her to live with chronic pain, infection, and rotting bone. Is it neglect now? (*For the record, this is not a client photo but some random internet PetMD image).

Pom happy

There are many resistances to pet dental care. I believe strongly in the benefit of routine dental care. I have heard too many testimonials to not believe it matters to our pets quality of life. If we wait until our pets have stopped eating or cry in pain, we have simply waited too long. Remember these are animals that survive because of their ability to withstand pain and disease without drawing attention.

Your coworker may complain of a tooth abscess but still eat his lunch and show up at work day after day, just dealing with the chronic pain until one day that infection becomes so bad he lands himself at the ER with injectable antibiotics. Our pets are no different at hiding that pain.

Common Points of Resistance to Dental Care

Fear of anesthesia.

I love my pets and have those same feelings of concern and fear but I know the benefits will out way the risks. I also know that all precautions including a balanced anesthetic approach, careful and detailed monitoring with a designated trained technician, IV fluid support, thermal support, and pain control will be part of the anesthesia event to minimize risks.  I can’t take away the fear… as your veterinarian I can only assure you that we do everything in our power to minimize the risks to hopefully relieve your fears. Many owners may have had a terrible experience a decade ago. We are always striving to improve your pet’s anesthetic experience, using the newest research and medications to allow the best experience possible.

The cost.

Truth. Pet dental are is expensive, especially if we are undoing years of inattention. Personally we cap our dental estimates because we believe very strongly that the pets NEED this service. It is unfair to leave behind painful or infected teeth and wish to reward the owner taking the steps to care for their pet.

Too Young or Too Old.

I always got a little squeamish when I saw the 14 year old dog with a mouth of pus, mobile teeth, and a risk of a jaw fracture secondary to that infection knowing I needed to say the words, “Your pets needs a comprehensive dental assessment and treatment”.  It all felt like too much too late.

There were probably many years of dental recommendations and now the teeth were in desperate need of attention. Or if they new clients to us they may have heard for 5 years “Their pet was simply too old for anesthesia or dental care.” But then I treated the 12 year old dog, and then the 14 year old dog, and then the 15 year old dog or the 16 year old cat and I couldn’t deny how much better they felt afterwards.  Owners would report “I had no idea but now they feel like a puppy or kitten again!”  My oldest dental patients are usually 15-16 years of age and I love the reports of how much better life is after. “Where there risks?” “Yes” but they were calculated in the hopes the benefits would outweigh them. Does quality of life matter more than quantity?

Save all the teeth! Fear of tooth loss.

My job as your pet’s veterinarian is simple…to give him a pain free, disease free mouth so it is a disservice to leave any compromised or infected teeth behind just to “save a tooth”. The reality is these teeth are worthless and most pets eat better without them. Also pets use their teeth very differently than we do. They have fewer molars and don’t do a lot of “grinding” and since we don’t make them hunt for their food, many don’t slow down a bit with eating or playing even when we take every single tooth. For those worried about how their pet could possibly eat without the teeth, many actually eat much better without mobile or painful infected teeth.

But do they really need it or is this just some great upsale?

I am not a sales person but I do have a passion for dental care. There are too many times to count when a tooth “looked” just fine and the pet didn’t complain only to find a problem and have the pet feel so much better. I tell clients “Our pets can’t tell us where it hurts so it is my job is to find the problem and fix it.” An exam under anesthesia and with dental radiographs tells the story. Just like eat food and brush everyday we are still advised to have our teeth cleaned regularly. Relying on just eating a kibble or dental chews is often not enough.

Some breeds are very prone to developing dental disease (smushy faced breeds, smaller or toy breeds, those with crowding). Researching the breed and preparing for the dental care necessary in the pet’ s lifetime is big step in responsible pet ownership.

So here is my big secret…I don’t brush everyone of my pet’s teeth every SINGLE day. I barely get my kids to brush the necessary times per day. I try! Regular dental assessments, cleanings, and appropriate treatment are a priority though. We are all human, just doing the best we can for those we love and care about, including our pets!

If your pet has had a dental treatment recommended and you have stalled, resisted, or just ignored the recommendation I urge you to really think about the reason why. As a veterinarian, it is my job to help pets and their owners enjoy a great quality of life and effective communication must be part of the equation. Don’t hide those fears or concerns! Tell us and we may have ideas or solutions to those hurdles holding you back from getting those teeth the attention they need. 

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Source: Making the Case for Dentistry. Paul Q. Mitchell, DVM, DAVDC

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