At Westgate Pet Clinic we are very proud of the services we offer and our approach to oral health care is no different. There was a recent expose on ABC's 20/20 regarding oral care in our pets and the veterinarian’s role in promoting such care. The point of the episode was that veterinarians tend to “up sell” such services even though they’re not necessary. To prove their point, they had a dog with clean teeth examined by different veterinarians in hopes of “trapping” them in promoting “un-necessary” procedures. They visited several veterinarians, and one practitioner recommended a dental cleaning for the dog presented for exam, hence backing up their point that we're all in it for the up-sell.
My intent is to not rebut this episode point by point, though I take issue with many; but rather to discuss the importance of preventative care and the role the veterinarian plays in your pet‘s oral health. Good oral health care is a holistic approach that not only entails a periodic professional oral prophylaxis (or dental cleaning), but also includes home care. Teeth are an often-overlooked key point of pet care where “bad breath” is just a part of being a dog or cat. Let’s explore what good oral care is at Westgate Pet Clinic and our approach to what exactly a "dental" is.
Terminology and the Oral Prophylaxis
First, I’m going to address terminology and what exactly is a professional oral prophylaxis. I detest the term “teeth cleaning” or “dental”. These terms appear to just scratch the surface of what a professional oral prophylaxis really is. I’ll use the term “oral prophy” for our purposes in this article.
An oral prophy entails the following: 1) evaluating each tooth individually with a gingival probe to score disease. 2) Utilizing intra-oral x-rays to evaluate disease not visible to the eye. 3) Determining which course of treatment (if any) is best in consult. The treatment isn’t the same for each tooth, pet or owner – factors such as health status, capability for home care and cost all play a role in what treatment is selected.
Healthy teeth and your veterinarian
Healthy teeth admittedly start at home; ideally every pet has their teeth brushed daily. This is often easier said than done, hence we employ other modes of home care that include diet (i.e. Hill’s Prescription Diet t/d), a variety of chew treats, toys and rinses to maintain our pet’s teeth the best we can.
In the exam room when teeth are examined, we’re looking for calculus buildup (the hard brown stain that exists on the crown of the tooth), gingival inflammation (the pink tissue that surrounds the tooth), fractured teeth and bad breath. Looking in the back of the mouth is very difficult on awake animals, and rarely completed without anesthesia. When discussing performing an oral prophy on your pet, it is important that you understand the value and goals of what is to be accomplished. Furthermore, it is important that you are comfortable with the recommended plan and work WITH us (your veterinarian) so that the goal is attained – which is ultimately your pet’s health and life quality.
So, when discussing an oral prophy – keep in mind that it is really just the tip of the iceberg. It should just be a part of a complete oral care program that is being done at home. Then, when your pet is in for their annual exam – the discussion around teeth isn’t some sort of “up-sell” – it’s discussion of a holistic nature – care at home, current oral status, professional care and it’s contribution to your pets overall health.