Teeth: The Rodney Dangerfields of the veterinary world
What makes anyone think that a mouth that smells like three-day-old garbage (and frequently far worse) isn’t worthy of treatment? Teeth just get no respect! To get anyone to sit up and pay attention we vets have to start talking about hearts, livers and kidneys—more respectable (albeit, unseen) organs.
Why is it that abscessed teeth get paid no heed unless an animal’s face swells like a balloon in a tooth’s agonizingly painful last gasp? Why does the demonstration of pus dripping into a pet’s mouth not elicit the same reaction? What is wrong with these people?
“He still eats, Doc. Teeth can’t be hurtin’ him if he still eats like a champ.”
Yeah, well, I’ve got a clue for you: Your dog will eat himself into oblivion if you let him. That’s why he weighs thirty pounds over the legal limit for his breed. Did you ever stop to wonder whether he chews or not? Even beagles chew sometimes, you know?
How about the cat who shudders in pain when the vet touches her tooth, but nonetheless consumes whole bowls of kitty food in grateful gulps, completely avoiding the tooth-tapping pain of kibble on raw nerve via a process I call “digestive inhalation.”
Even a month later when the tooth breaks off at the root and the gum swells to the size of a small grape these owners are still clueless over why food is now falling out of their cat’s mouth when she eats. “She’s just about the messiest eater I’ve ever seen, Doc.”
Gee, wonder why…
I bring up this timely topic because we’re headed into February, which happens to be not just Black History Month, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Healthy Heart Month and a bunch of other months in recognition of some issue or another. February is also (you guessed it)…Pet Dental Health Month!
Though it’s not quite February I thought you might want to get started on making appointments and getting your pets’ pre-anesthetic bloodwork done, among all those other things we vets tell our clients (and remind ourselves) need to be taken care of once a year.
Problem is, when I write about it on Dolittler I’m always preaching to the choir. You guys have probably taken care of this stuff long before I deigned to mention it—much less undertook it for my own creatures (the cobbler’s sons and their shoes and all that).
In case you don’t already know it, you’re the model citizens of the pet world and as such you’re never the right audience for my rants on dental health. Nonetheless, I’ve got to talk to someone and at the very least you’re always a sympathetic ear, reveling in my indignant tone and stirring me up ever more with your outraged comments on behalf of suffering pets everywhere.
So here’s more of my rant:
“But teeth cleaning requires anesthesia! I know pets die of it…”
And pets die of dental disease too, though seldom directly. To this point: Countless studies confirm the reduced life expectancy of pets with untreated periodontal disease. Even self-described anesthephobes don’t forego anesthesia for wound surgeries and other emergencies. That’s why I’m hard-pressed to believe that the risk of anesthesia is the true hang-up in most of these cases.
They just don’t think teeth are worth it.
“Let’s let them rot out of his head, OK Doc? I mean, he’s thirteen years old!”
Think I jest? I have at least one technician who was able to confirm that one client actually spoke these words yesterday.
Me: “Did he really say that?”
Her: “Yes, Ma’am, he really did.”
Then there’s the money thing: “It costs how much to clean her teeth? Gosh darn it, Doc, I don’t spend that much on my own cleanings. (Clearly.)
I don’t know but $160 (for anesthesia, use of expensive monitoring equipment and reliance on dental techs who’ve taken pricey courses offered by our local board certified vet dentistry guru) is a steal compared to prices elsewhere. We keep it low for a reason. People here won’t do it otherwise. Granted, X-rays and extractions are extra but I charge for extractions on a sliding scale based on owner finances. God knows you don’t see that happen often in the human healthcare business (save psychiatry, God bless ‘em).
Despite all my entreaties and exhortations, my words often fall on deaf ears.
Brushing? I still get laughed at routinely.
But that’s changing. I have to admit that my client mix is starting to tip in the direction of the more compliant on this and other issues. With all the writing I do, I’m finally beginning to see the more of the kind of clients who might just opt for annual dentistries (when necessary, of course). It’s gratifying to know that all my venting and choir practice may just pay off in less long run stress. That alone is a great reason to keep preaching. Right?