Having worked as a nurse for several years, and most recently as assistant to Dr Jose, our veterinary dentist, I have seen some healthy mouths and some unfortunate animals with dreadful teeth. These animals are usually booked in to see us as their breath smells bad and they do not want to eat pellets any more. They go home minus multiple teeth because the years of plaque and calculus build-up on their teeth causes gingivitis, gum recession, pain, bone loss and abscesses around the tooth roots. In addition, the dental surgery required in these cases is long, with anaesthetics often over 1.5 hours which increases risks of the procedure. It is also expensive, uncomfortable for your pet and largely preventable.
So, how can this be prevented? By starting good tooth hygiene when your pets are still young. But, let’s be honest, not all dogs and cats will tolerate having their teeth brushed every day. That’s where we can help by doing a thorough tooth clean (called a scale and polish) under anaesthetic. Think of it the same way as a trip to a human dental hygienist. We use the same equipment and our approach is the same, except that we need to anaesthetise our patients.
People often ask me why this is necessary. A general anaesthetic to clean teeth may sound rather extreme but doing so allows us to give a controlled flow of oxygen and anaesthetic gas via a tube in the trachea (windpipe) to keep them sleeping, and seals the trachea to prevent any fluid or tartar accidentally being breathed in during the procedure. It also allows us to safely, quickly and effectively clean all surfaces of each tooth. Can you imagine trying to tell a wide-awake bouncy little terrier to “stay still and keep your mouth open” while trying to clean all 42 teeth?
During a dental scale & polish we clean off all the plaque and tartar on the tooth and under the gum line and can evaluate the teeth to see if any require extractions. By doing regular dentals (some animals come in every 6 months), we can keep teeth clean and keep track of any teeth that may need treatment in future. The procedure itself takes about 20 – 30 mins and your pet will be able to go home the same afternoon. Our aim with a regular scale and polish is to keep the teeth clean and in good condition, thus eliminating or reducing the number of teeth needing extraction as your pet ages. These short anaesthetics are safer and better than the long procedures associated with very diseased mouths. And of course, regular tooth brushing between dentals will help ensure the good health of your pet’s teeth.
Penny was a recent visitor to Tygerberg Animal Hospital Bellville. This is the perfect example of when your pet should come in for a scale and polish. As shown in the pictures on the left, there is mild discolouration on the teeth. This is tartar that is easily removed by scaling the teeth. Once the tartar has been removed, we polish the teeth to remove any remaining plaque and smooth the tooth surface. Penny went home with beautiful clean teeth, as shown on the right and will be back in the next year or two for another safe, short, clean.
Here is Penny safely back home on the same day her dental was done. She is also proudly wearing her bandana she received when she was discharged from TAH Bellville.
Yours in dental health,