Sunday, March 15, 2015

Dental Health

Someone recently asked about dental health on a forum that I frequent. Her question was whether or not a "dental" was necessary for her young dog (had been recommended by her vet). This young lady is a great dog owner and has always demonstrated that she will do whatever is needed for her dogs, so I knew she was asking genuinely.

Dental health happens to be one of my big pet peeves, both as an owner and a veterinarian. There are two sides to my feelings on this matter. The first is about dental cleanings, the second is about prevention.

As far as dental cleanings go... yes, they are necessary. But that need is on an individual basis. Unlike humans, veterinarians don't recommend a cleaning every 9 months for every pet. Would that be ideal? Hell yes! But the fact is that our patients are not nearly as cooperative and they have to be anesthetized. If I recommend a dental cleaning for a pet, it is because that animal NEEDS it. What blows my mind is the number of owners who don't see this need... no matter how I try to lay it out for them. I show them pictures of severe dental disease (if their pet is just in the early stages), I point out that if a person's mouth looked half as bad as their pet's... they'd be at their dentist months ago. I point out that if we break a tooth, or get a cavity, it really hurts and we are at our dentist... like yesterday. It continually blows my mind that owners can say "well I don't think he's in pain". His teeth are almost falling out! His gums are red and bleeding! His breath smells like something crawled in there and died! Excuse my hysteria... but have I mentioned how it blows my mind?

What boggles my mind even more? Prevention is simple. It doesn't mean we can avoid cleanings in all pets forever, but it certainly helps a lot! I know some people think they can't brush their dog's teeth. I'm here to tell you that most dogs can learn to accept brushing. They're not all going to let you just stick a tooth brush in there, but with a bit of patience and high value treats you can convince almost any dog of almost anything. Then we have the owners that just plain don't want to do it. And that is totally fine... as long as the anesthetic cleanings are done when needed. What baffles me is the owners that don't want to do the work to maintain basic dental hygiene, and yet also won't spend the money to have the teeth cleaned.

While we're discussing money, I think my biggest pet peeve of all is "Dentals are so expensive!" in response to a $500 quote for a routine cleaning (or you know... $2000 for major dental surgery because they didn't do the $500 cleaning 3 years ago like they were recommended). I hate that word, expensive. The implication of that word is of overcharging. Here's what I don't get about this situation. Has no one ever looked at their own dental bills? I recently went to the dentist and had a cleaning, x-rays, and a wisdom tooth extracted. My bill? $1100. Sure, after insurance I only paid about $250, but that's not what it actually cost. If I didn't have insurance I'd be paying the full amount. And pet insurance exists, some plans even cover routine dental cleanings (I know because my plan does, although I haven't needed to use it). I could offer the same procedure that I had for probably $800-900... including bloodwork and anesthetic! Maybe the big problem with this analogy is that people think dentists are too "expensive". I'm not a dentist, but we have a lot of similar equipment and it is NOT cheap. Is $500 (or $1000 or $2000) a lot of money? Absolutely! Is veterinary dental care expensive? I argue (passionately) no.

At the end of this discussion, the original poster asked me about my own dogs' teeth. I am proud of their teeth; they are in great shape. I brush teeth every night before bed. I use Healthy Mouth in their water. I give dental chews from time to time, but I don't rely on that to do much. The fact is... you need to brush daily to maintain good oral hygiene. This shouldn't be a surprise... after all, your own dentist has been harping on TWICE daily brushing since you were 5 years old. So far neither dog has needed a cleaning. Partly that's due to my diligence with their oral care, and part of it is just pure luck with their genetics.

Kili's pearly whites are pretty much perfect. No tartar for this girl!

Summit's teeth are tartar free, but he does have a bit of staining from age.

If you're not sure how your dog's teeth are doing, visit your veterinarian and have them evaluated! Happy brushing!

1 comment:

Janette Ash said...

Great post!!!