A comprehensive approach to addressing pet oral health
When asked what makes veterinary dentistry difficult, Jan Bellows, DVM, DAVDC, DABVP, FAVD, told dvm360 that getting clients to agree to treatment and aftercare is a challenge. “The most challenging aspect of dentistry is that there’s a client attached to every patient. The veterinarian generally knows what to do, but then they must convince the client that the pet really needs it. Because in most cases, the animal is still eating even though they have horrible teeth and [are] in chronic pain. The client needs to appreciate that, then agree to the treatment, and then agree to aftercare,” he said. However, research suggests that 80% of dogs and 70% of cats will develop some form of periodontal disease by age 3.1 How can veterinary professionals combat this disparity?
“Discussing dental treatments with pet owners can be frustrating,” Adam Christman, DVM, MBA, chief veterinary officer of dvm360, said. He also explained how the benefits of these necessary dental procedures can be demonstrated to clients. “A picture is worth 1000 words, and so are client testimonials. Show before and after photos of dental procedures you have performed, along with client response.”2
Stephanie Goldschmidt, BVM&S, DAVDC, assistant professor of dentistry and oral surgery at the University of California, Davis, told dvm360, “I often try to relate it back to what occurs in humans. Most owners can relate to what it feels like when they have a toothache, or what may happen if they didn’t brush their own teeth for 8 years. I find that when they realize that the processes in dogs and cats are nearly identical to what occurs in humans, a ‘light bulb’ goes off for them.”
After communicating the importance of professional dental care, the next step is to provide specific instruction on what clients can implement at home to maintain their pet’s oral health. “The best thing for periodontal health is tooth brushing daily. Other options are the inclusions of dental diets, treats, [and] other products that are Veterinary Oral Health Council approved…In general, I recommend having a cleaning and oral assessment performed once a year to prevent development of severe periodontal disease and identify other less common oral abnormalities early. Signs of oral pain that may be noticed at home include dropping toys, chattering of the teeth, becoming head shy, or being reluctant to yawn—all of which should alert an owner to bring their pet in for an evaluation,” Goldschmidt said.
Bellows recognizes that some clients may have trouble brushing their pet’s teeth. “Tooth brushing is a great idea. It’s the gold standard, but virtually no one can pull it off,” he said.3 He also mentioned that most of the time tooth brushing is not a Fear Free experience for the pet. As an alternative, Bellows suggests using dental wipes, as he says that they offer a gentler
experience for the pet, and clients can follow it up by rewarding them with a high-value treat.
an alternative, Bellows suggests using dental wipes, as he says that they offer a gentler experience for the pet, and clients can follow it up by rewarding them with a high-value treat.
Overall, any dental aftercare performed at home in between clinic visits is better than none. Goldschmidt explained the long-term consequences of not maintaining proper oral health. “It truly depends on the exact oral condition, but all are detrimental long term. For example, untreated acute or mild pain from an infection will eventually result in chronic pain that is much harder, or impossible, to control. Untreated severe periodontal disease can lead to severe secondary complications, including jaw fractures, oronasal fistulas, and severe osteomyelitis [bone infections]. The long-term systemic effects of periodontal disease in dogs are largely unknown but have been shown in humans to result in systemic pro-inflammatory state, resulting in distant organ dysfunction.”