The importance of routine dental care is often under appreciated in the long term health and well being of our animal companions. Like humans, dogs and cats are susceptible to plaque build up, periodontal disease, and various forms of tooth decay. These problems may not be apparent until signs of advanced disease, such as loose or abscessed teeth are evident. Home dental care, including regular brushing and appropriate chew treats, plays a vital role in maintaining clean teeth and healthy gums. Routine physical exams include inspection of the teeth, gums, and visible portions of the mouth and throat.
When necessary, we recommend a COHAT (acronym for Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment and Treatment). As the name implies, this is more than just a cosmetic dental cleaning. A COHAT involves a thorough exam of the oral cavity, ultrasound scaling and polishing of the teeth, and full mouth intra-oral radiographs (x-rays). Following this assessment, the doctor is able to determine if the tooth roots and bone surrounding the teeth are healthy and if further treatment is recommended. During the past 10 years of routinely performing dental radiographs, we have come to greatly appreciate their value. Contrary to expectations that animals with moderate to severe dental disease would stop eating or vocally express their discomfort, they may simply sleep more or become less active, signs often attributed to normal aging. We have repeatedly found teeth with healthy appearing crowns, but diseased roots, which would have been invisible without radiographs. We frequently hear how much more active and happier patients become once the source of disease is removed.
To properly accomplish this type of assessment in our canine and feline patients, general anesthesia is required. We recognize that this may be a source of concern, particularly for those with geriatric animals. While anesthesia is not without risk, we make every effort to minimize the risk through careful pre anesthesia screening to evaluate organ function (blood panels and ECG, if indicated) as well as close monitoring of our patients during and after recovery from anesthesia.
Because diseased teeth are not only a source of bad breath, but reservoir of infection, which may affect overall health and quality of life, we believe that for most patients, the health risks of undiagnosed and untreated dental disease far outweigh the risk of anesthesia.