Professional dental care for dogs and cats
By Dr. Katie Habgood
Dental disease is encountered every single day in veterinary practice and is one of the most common diseases in our companion pets. More than 75% of dogs and cats over the age of 3 years old have some degree of dental disease. Left untreated, dental disease can cause a myriad of problems including painful gum disease, tooth root abscesses, and in severe cases weakening and even fractures of the jaw. Fortunately for our pets, “dental cleanings” or COHATs can be performed not only to address disease that is present but also as a preventative along with at home dental care. COHAT stands for Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment and Treatment.
One question often asked is, “Why are you recommending a dental cleaning when I can just brush my dog’s/cat’s teeth at home?” Brushing works best as an at home preventative before your pet develops dental disease or after a COHAT has already been performed. Unlike brushing the teeth, which aids in removing bacteria and plaque from the tooth surface that is visible above the gumline, there are many more steps involved in a COHAT. So, what exactly is a dental cleaning/COHAT? The first step occurs during your pet’s exam. Your veterinarian will examine your pet’s mouth as thoroughly as your pet allows to determine the degree of dental disease present and then come up with a treatment plan. A drop-off appointment is then scheduled for the COHAT.
- On the morning of your pet’s COHAT, you will first meet with a technician to go over necessary paperwork and to discuss preanesthetic testing. The technician will then set up a pick-up time later in the day for when your pet is ready to be discharged. If preanesthetic testing is elected, the technician will perform this.
- Your veterinarian will then perform another exam on your pet and review any preanesthetic tests. A preanesthetic sedative is then given, an IV catheter is placed to administer fluids and your pet is anesthetized. Anesthesia is needed when performing teeth cleanings. Anesthesia immobilizes your pet to allow thorough cleaning below the gumline, it provides pain control, it allows placement of a tube into the wind pipe to secure the airway and to prevent bacterial products from entering the airway, and it allows treatment of disease especially when extractions are needed. While under anesthesia, your pet’s heart rate and rhythm, respiratory rate, blood pressure, oxygenation and temperature are all closely monitored.
- A technician then performs full mouth x-rays of your pet’s teeth. This allows us to visualize the roots of the teeth to identify disease that may not be readily apparent above the gum surface, as well as to identify any abnormal bone changes, such as fractures or masses. X-rays will determine if the teeth can be saved or need to be extracted.
- Next, the technician will examine each tooth, use a periodontal probe to check for pockets between the tooth and the gumline and chart any abnormalities. An ultrasonic scaler is then used to clean the teeth above and below the gumline.
- While the technician is cleaning your pet’s teeth, your veterinarian will review the x-rays. Once the cleaning is finished, your veterinarian will perform a thorough oral exam and come up with a revised treatment plan which may include extractions. If extractions are necessary, your veterinarian will determine what dental blocks are needed. A dental block is an injectable anesthetic that numbs the area around whichever tooth needs to be removed. After extracting any necessary teeth, whenever possible, the extraction sites are sutured closed with an absorbable/dissolvable suture.
- The technician then rinses your pet’s mouth and polishes all remaining teeth. After polishing, fluoride is applied. Your pet is then allowed to wake up from anesthesia.
- When your pet has fully recovered from anesthesia, a dental chart is created by the technician, and your veterinarian will create an at home treatment plan. If your pet had any teeth extracted, pain medications will be sent home to administer for a certain amount of days. Your veterinarian may also prescribe an antibiotic.
- When you pick up your pet later in the day, a technician will go over at home instructions, including medications, special feeding plans such as feeding a softened diet and at home dental care.
So how often does my dog or cat need a dental cleaning? It all depends on the degree of plaque and tartar accumulation. If your pet allows, get in the habit of examining the mouth at least once a month. If you are noticing red gums, bad breath, yellow or brown material on the teeth, broken teeth, mouth soreness, etc., it is time for a professional cleaning. Unfortunately, our pets can’t always tell us when a tooth is bothering them! If you have any further questions about any of the above steps of a COHAT, please contact your veterinarian.