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Since most dogs presented with advanced periodontitis are older canines, owner concern regarding the safety of dental procedures always seems to be an impediment to performing dental procedures, especially since anesthesia is an important aspect of a thorough dental cleaning.
"Age," as Dr. Jones said, "is not a disease, and senior citizen dogs that are otherwise healthy are generally able to tolerate anesthesia for an elective procedure. Even though anesthesia safety will continue to improve, there will never be a time when there is no risk. The question is really whether the level of risk is appropriately measured against the damage to the dog’s quality of life if it does not have a dental procedure."
Dr. Jones also points out that in modern veterinary practices the anesthetics utilized are markedly safer than those used 15 or 20 years ago and patient monitoring during anesthesia has become quite sophisticated. The use of intravenous fluids during the procedure, warmed surgical surfaces to keep the patient’s body temperature stable, and preanesthetic blood chemistry evaluation all improve the opportunity for the patient to benefit from the dental procedure.
One of the best ways to insure optimum oral health is to provide the dog with a well-balanced, meat-based dog food. Meat assists in keeping the mouth environment healthy. Actively encouraging the dog to utilize chew treats that require some "exercising" of the teeth, such as is provided by compressed rawhide chewies, hard rubber or nylon chew toys, can assist in keeping the mouth structures vital. Brushing the dog’s teeth can be a big help, too, but needs to be done almost daily.
One study in the Journal of Veterinary Dentistry, December, 1996, reported "Tooth-brushing every other day did not maintain clinically healthy gingiva in dogs. The daily addition of a dental hygiene chew to a regimen of tooth brushing every other day reduced the gingivitis scores and reduced the accumulation of dental deposits (plaque, calculus and stain). Daily tooth-brushing should be the recommendation to the dog owner irrespective of dietary regimen."
Newer dental care products that include antiseptic impregnated chewies, canine appropriate tooth brushes, and even flavored tooth pastes to "reward" the dog for allowing the brushing, are available online and in pet supply stores or veterinary hospitals. Also important are routine oral hygiene visits where under light anesthesia the patient can undergo ultrasonic teeth cleaning, close inspection of teeth and gingiva, and assessment of overall oral health.
Addressing problems when they are minor and preventing the health damaging effects of bacterial contamination and systemic toxin release are immeasurably beneficial to the dog’s long-term health status.
The increase in number of Specialists in Veterinary Dentistry such as Dr. Bellows attests to the fact that we dog owners need to pay closer attention to our dog’s oral health status. And that begins with the simple task of looking closely at the dog’s mouth.
Dr. Bellows neatly sums up the need for optimum oral health throughout a dog’s life by telling me this, "When a client asks me how long their puppy will live, I usually respond 15-17 years if you brush their teeth daily … 11-13 years if you don't."
If that doesn't convince you, I don't know what will.
Image: Regan Walsh / via Flickr