First-person report by Dr. J. Fisch, D.V.M., our electronic vet, exclusively at CBS.com
Fifteen years ago, veterinarians paid only casual attention to the condition of their patients' mouths. Since then, with the recognition of the importance of dental health as it relates to an animal's general well being, the field of veterinary dentistry has been considerably advanced. Specialists can now perform procedures formerly in the exclusive realm of their counterparts in human dentistry. Endodontics (root canal), orthodontics, and periodontics are among the treatments available to animals.
General practitioners are looking for and identifying dental disease. Most are able to offer at least the more routine services such as cleanings and simple extractions. As the number of veterinary dentists grows, treatment for the more complicated problems is becoming more widely accessible.
As might be guessed, operating in an animal's mouth almost always requires the use of general anesthesia. Older animals frequently suffer from dental problems. Before undertaking anesthesia in these patients, prudence and the standards of good care demand that some type of pre-anesthetic work-up be completed. The scope of these work-ups will vary and will depend on the overall health of the animal. Minimally, blood tests will be run, but an evaluation may include an EKG, cardiac ultrasound, and/or x-rays.
Many people are understandably uneasy having their pets anesthetized. Nonetheless, it should be understood that when the proper precautions are taken, disastrous outcomes are very rare. It is frustrating and troubling when a pet owner's anxiety about anesthesia prevents the correction of a painful dental condition.
Most often the successful treatment or control of dental disease requires the active involvement of the pet's owner. Animals are usually discharged with any of a variety of rinses, gels, or pastes, which should be regularly applied to maximize results. Doing so often tests both patience and ingenuity. Special types of dry food have recently been formulated that can actually remove existing tartar from an animal's teeth and prevent its return.
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The outward signs of dental disease are often not obvious. It isn't unusual for a pet to simply grow more subdued in response to oral pain. The quantity of food consumed may be unchanged as the animal only avoids eating on the painful side of the mouth -something the average person is apt not to notice. This is why a good oral exam is an essential part of every general examination conducted in a vet's office.
On the other and, there may be unmistakable indications of a dental problem. If a pet suddenly refuses to eat the hard food or treats he has always enjoyed, if she recoils from gentle petting around her mouth, or if there is excessive drooling or halitosis, the owner should seek prompt professional attention.
By Dr. J. Fisch. ©1998 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed