Just like if you or I didn't brush our teeth for years, pets who don't receive routine preventative dental care will inevitably develop diseased teeth and gums. Common problems include heavy tartar and plaque buildup, serious gingivitis (gum inflammation/infection), recession of the gums, broken or damaged teeth, or even resorption of portions of the teeth (common in cats). These issues can lead to infection, oral pain, difficulty eating, foul breath, and they can even impact other organ systems if left untreated (such as the heart and kidneys).
However, for the same reasons that we recommend preventative home dental care for your pets (and that our human dentists recommend two cleanings per year, in the office!), our goal is always to address dental disease well before it gets to an advanced stage. When our veterinarians see early signs of tartar buildup on your pet's teeth, we recommend an anesthetized oral examination and dental cleaning as soon as possible for the wellbeing and longevity of your pet.
Before we go further, I want to address a common question we hear in the exam room: "Doc, why is anesthesia necessary for the full oral exam and cleaning? My dentist cleans my teeth without sedation." Well, if we could ask our patients to calmly hold still with their mouths open for 20-40 minutes while we use motorized scalers and polishers (not to mention take digital x-rays!), then we certainly wouldn't need to use anesthesia either! Yes, there are some non-veterinarians out there offering "anesthesia-free" dental cleanings. Unfortunately, these procedures cause unnecessary stress and pain for many pets, and often mask or even cause severe tooth and gum issues. You can read more about this issue here: http://avdc.org/AFD/.
It is also important for our pet parents to know that we are an AAHA accredited veterinary hospital (American Animal Hospital Association (https://www.aaha.org/pet_owner) and as such, we adhere to the highest levels of anesthetic care and monitoring. While some practices have a sole individual responsible for cleaning a pet's teeth and monitoring the anesthesia and all pet vitals, we have three experienced medical staff involved in each procedure! These include an anesthesia nurse whose sole job is to monitor every aspect of the anesthetic procedure (our dental suite resembles a human operating room!), a "dental hygienist" who will perform the cleaning and charting, and a veterinarian who will assess and treat any disease present.
Once your mind is eased about anesthesia, you might be surprised to find out that your pet's dental procedure itself actually includes many steps! "Wow!" is the typical response I get when I have these conversations in person. Most parents are shocked to find out the detail and level of care that is involved in our dental procedures at PAH & CCC. I hope these points have been enlightening for you as well! Please visit our Princeton Animal Hospital Facebook to see a virtual dental tour.
Please don't hesitate to call us with any questions your may have or to schedule an oral evaluation for your pet. We can assess your pet's current level of dental health and either help you tailor an individual preventative care plan to implement at home or, if needed, schedule your pet for a sedated oral examination to fully evaluate the oral cavity and discuss treatment option for any issues that may be present. Don't forget: dental month is December!! Receive 10% off dentals!