Dentures are not for pets!
We’ve all been there… The sound of the drill, your racing pulse, the cold sweats and then some serious second thoughts and finally a palpable desire to bolt…
Let’s face it, for many of us, going to the dentist is not a highly desirable way to spend your day off. Interestingly, for many of the same reasons we need to go to the dentist annually, our feline family members should be also be going. Luckily for them, the trip to the feline dentist can be far less stressful than it is for us.
Pounds of prevention
Regularly scheduled feline dentals can make a significant difference in the life of your cat. Although they will try their best to mask their physical levels of pain (predators that show pain generally get eaten by something else in nature), there is no doubt that cats feel significant pain from dental problems. Dental pain may cause lack of appetite, behavioral changes, disruption to drinking/hydration, etc. Especially for kitties with chronic conditions like kidney disease or liver disease, problems with hydration and appetite or due to oral bacterial infections can be serious. It’s no surprise that proper feline dental health has been linked to progression of these diseases and also other problems like heart disease, hepatic lipidosis, etc. Biannual dental (or in some cats annual) cleanings can make a significant difference in both the quality and longevity of your kitty’s life.
Hanging by a thread
Perhaps the biggest benefit to routine dental cleanings is the decreased need for tooth extractions. Like us, cleaning scale from the teeth and at the gum line can decrease inflammation and susceptibility to decay. All too often, we see kitties come in with teeth missing or with teeth that have already worked themselves loose. Although we as owners might not have noticed, these teeth were (at one time) very painful to our kitties. While they tend to bounce back quickly from dental extractions, kitties should be provided with post-dental pain management and potentially antibiotics. This along with the extractions themselves, can add to the cost and post-care effort in comparison to what could have been a routine cleaning. Moral to the story (for us and them), we can save ourselves money and some medicated melodrama by cleaning often rather than extracting often.
Dental disease is not ageist
Dental disease transcends boundaries of age and species. For some cats, routine dentals should be started at early ages. As a matter-of-fact, for certain felines predisposed to painful and spontaneous oral resorptive lesions, we will need to be on the lookout for potential extractions at very early ages. Although the causes of these lesions are still unclear, routine dentals and dental radiographs (x-rays that look at the quality and root structure of otherwise normal looking teeth) can be immensely useful in catching them early. On the flip-side of things, even the oldest of cats can benefit from dental cleanings. For many kitties that have started to eat less or favor or switch foods often, a dental cleaning can make a world of difference in eating habits. Due to their predisposition to having some form of kidney disease or other chronic condition, these kitties may be even more in need of dental treatment than any other feline demographic.
Ignorance is bliss
Although it does complicate a dental, our kitties have the benefit that they won’t remember the dental itself. Done according to contemporary veterinary standards, our feline companions will be under anesthesia during the procedures. They won’t feel pain during the procedures nor will they be conscious of any unpleasantries. While this ignorance is sweet sweet bliss, there are always risks involved with any anesthetic procedure. For this reason every cat (yes, even the young ones) should be evaluated for these risks with pre-anesthetic bloodwork and anesthetic procedures like dentals weighed on a risk/reward basis for each given cat. Although it can be pricey, getting regular bloodwork and regular dentals are quite possibly the most important one-two punch in preventative medical care.
Up to par?
Dental standards are dynamic. While some cutting edge treatments like implants and grafts may or may not be cost-effective for you, if you are considering a dental or your veterinarian suspects dental disease is present, a routine cleaning should include a safe anesthetic and pre-anesthetic, post-dental pain management, antibiotics (when necessary) and most importantly, dental radiographs before the dental and after any extractions. It is quickly becoming the standard in veterinary medicine (someday it will probably be malpractice to not do them!) that dental work should not be performed without the aid of dental radiographs. They have the ability to see below the gum line to catch problems early and also prevent a host of problems that can come with dental extractions the worst of which might include a broken jaw or unnoticed bone recession/damage! All of these things should be included in your dental package. As with anything, you get what you pay for so always ask your veterinary professional what they will do before, during and after the dental.
Notes from the Doctor:
Anesthesia can be very scary, and with good reason. No procedure is 100% risk free. However, doing things like pre-anesthetic bloodwork, IV fluids throughout the procedure, and monitoring vitals while under anesthesia (including heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygenation of blood) keep the procedure as safe as possible. The chances of an ‘adverse event’ under anesthesia (which can include simple reversible events, like a low heart rate that is quickly corrected with an injection) is over one hundred fold less likely than your cat experiencing a problem from dental disease (including pain, infection, or organ damage). You and your veterinarian should always discuss the risks and benefits of a dental procedure for your cat but for most cats the benefits will far outweigh the risks and for those cats with hidden pain, you are likely to see a major change (for the better) in your cat’s personality after the procedure.