Often on awake exam we can identify tartar (brown material adhered to the teeth) and gingivitis, (inflammation of the gum tissue above the teeth). What we can't tell is how severe the disease is underneath the tartar, whether bone loss around the roots of the teeth is present, and whether or not there's infection at the tips of the roots. Unfortunately, we're not able to assess these criteria until the patient is under anesthesia.
By taking x-rays of every tooth in the mouth and by carefully probing each tooth individually, we can look for bone loss and assess the health of the teeth. Teeth that have lost more than 50% of the supporting bone or that have infections at the tips of the roots need to be extracted, as they will be a source of constant pain and infection otherwise, and can't be treated successfully with antibiotics. We also frequently identify tooth root abscesses or a tooth that has fractured under the gum-line, and can have a chance to address it while the animal is under anaesthetic.
While an animal is under anaesthesia to do this detailed exam and x-ray series, we also will do what has often been called a "dental cleaning." This could be more accurately described as an oral health assessment and treatment. This involves scaling the tartar off the teeth, scaling the tartar underneath the gum-line, and polishing the teeth to reduce the accumulation of plaque and tartar. This is one of the major advantages of having your pet's dental work performed under anesthesia by a veterinarian - teeth cannot be properly cleaned below the gumline in an awake pet. Removing the tartar and plaque under the gumline is critically important in stopping the progression of periodontal disease, and anesthesia free dental cleanings fail to address this critical step.
If we do end up finding an unexpected problem the mouth during this procedure, we will contact you to discuss what we think the best treatment option is and to go over costs with you. Because we often find problems we did not expect to find when we're doing dental work, it's important that we would have a way to contact you during the day while the procedure is being done.
We take dentistry and anesthesia very seriously at our clinic - every patient who is anesthetized has a trained veterinary technician monitoring their anesthesia and recording their vital signs every 5 minutes, and every patient who has dental surgery done has nerve blocks and comprehensive pain control both during and after surgery. We offer the option of having a pre-surgical blood panel done, which is to screen for any problems with liver or kidney function or any abnormalities in the blood cell counts that could affect how the animal will do under anesthesia. All of the veterinarians in our clinic have done additional training in dentistry beyond what is offered in veterinary school. All of our patients have free rechecks two weeks after their procedures to ensure they're healing well.
Animals have a hard time showing us that their mouths hurt, and they'll usually continue to eat and play even when they have severe pain. Please contact us anytime to further discuss your pet's dental health.