Monday Medical Dental Health Series: Part 2
Previous: 2/4/13: Overview
Next week: 2/11/13: Interview with Dr. Huber, part 2
|Dr. Huber with one of her patients|
And when we mentioned recently that we had some questions about pets and dental health, it was clear that this is a subject she's also pretty keen on!
A Tonk's Tail: Do you have any pet peeves about the way most pet owners view dental health?
Dr. Huber: Actually, I have two! The first one is the idea that our pets don't really feel or respond to dental pain to the same degree that humans do.
This could not be more false.
Studies performed in the 90's showed that pets react to the same level of stimulation and have the same physiological responses to pain as humans. Cats will instinctively mask pain to avoid predation (a survival tool from their days in the wild), so it may appear as if they are not in pain when they in fact feel quite a bit of discomfort.
If you see a lesion in a pet’s mouth that may cause pain, address it. It is remarkable how many people will say that they notice a tremendous improvement in their pet's attitude and behavior after addressing dental problems.
ATT: You mentioned a second peeve?
DH: Yes. It's when I hear, "he only has mild tartar buildup, its not a big deal."
|Tartar build-up (tanakawho, Creative Commons 2.0)|
Teeth that do not appear diseased can have disease under the gum line that goes all the way to the root. This can only be found by a combination of gentle probing deep below the gum line during the oral exam and cleaning process.
This physical exam, combined with radiographs (x-rays) can reveal disease to the root and even the surrounding bone.
It’s important to remember that tartar builds up because of the presence of bacteria in the mouth. When the gums and/or roots are diseased, this can then allow a direct route for bacteria to access the rest of the body.
ATT: Which leads to the next question: Can dental disease negatively impact overall health?
DH: In a word, YES.
There has been a lot of research done on this particular topic in both human and veterinary medicine. While it has been difficult to demonstrate a direct cause and effect relationship between periodontal health and systemic health, the evidence suggests that this is the case.
|Photo: Wikimedia Commons, via Creative Commons 2.0|
Periodontal disease (or disease of the underlying support structures of the tooth) is caused by plaque (bacteria). This plaque becomes mineralized and causes calculus.
As time passes, gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) develops and bacteria gain access to the underlying structures of the tooth. This can cause bone loss and damage to the root.
Research suggests that this can cause disease in the heart, kidneys, liver, and other body systems. Veterinarians will often give animals an injectable form of antibiotic while under anesthesia for a dental cleaning and send pets home on antibiotics to help prevent the spread of harmful oral pathogens.
ATT: Let’s talk for a minute about older pets and dental health. Are there risks associated with age?
DH: I often have clients that have come from other vets tell me that their vets tell them "my cat is too old for anesthesia and the risks outweigh the benefits of the dental procedure." I then ask them to list the specific risks they’re concerned about and any supporting documentation... and they do not have an answer for me.
I guess you could say I have a third pet peeve: AGE IS NOT A DISEASE!
While it is true that older animals metabolize anesthesia differently than younger animals, age does not preclude a pet from undergoing anesthetic procedures.
All pets also have a pre-anesthetic ECG (electrical tracing of the heart) to rule out any problems with heart rate or rhythm that might not be heard on a normal physical exam.
|Kitty's Pearly Whites (photo: Klauden, Wikimedia Commons)|
And while under anesthesia, all animals have a continuous ECG, a pulse oximeter reading (oxygenation of the blood), a respiratory monitor, and a blood pressure taken every 3-5 minutes.
This ensures that we have taken every possible measure to keep each pet safe and healthy while under anesthesia. When a pet is recovering they are monitored by a technician for any distress and a veterinarian is always nearby to address any emergent issues.
DH: This brings me to another fact I’d like to discuss: Senior ailments can actually be compounded by dental issues.
Consuming a significant quantity of quality calories and protein is essential for a cat that has a systemic disease. If the cat has oral pain, it is often not willing to eat and this will have a negative effect on their ability to fight disease.
Once dental disease is addressed, the painful stimulus in the mouth is removed and the cat will often show a marked increase in food consumption and improvement in their particular disease.
I cannot prove this as being a direct cause an effect relationship but I have seen many senior cats with severe periodontal disease come in with significantly elevated liver enzymes. After their dental cleaning, these enzymes will often be markedly reduced (if not normal).
Next Week: What questions to askyour vet before a dental procedure