As Dental Health Month comes to a close, I wanted to share a case with our client family that had an impact on me this month. As part of every exam, Dr. Plodzik and I will always examine your pet’s mouth. We might point out a bit of tartar on his or her teeth or remind you to try brushing those teeth every day. On your physical exam sheet, you may notice an entry under “Oral” referring to your pet’s oral health as Stage I, Stage II, or Stage III. We try not to make you feel pressured about pursuing a dental cleaning for your pet - we know that putting your family friend under anesthesia can be scary as well as expensive. However, after going through dental health month, it occurs to me that we may be doing our clients a disservice.
First, a quick explanation: What exactly do Stage I, Stage II and Stage III mean in reference to your pet’s oral health? Stage I disease occurs when the bacteria within tartar and calculus (the brown stuff) on the surface of the tooth makes the gums inflamed. This stage of gingivitis is reversible if a professional dental cleaning is pursued. Stage II disease occurs when the bacteria causes inflammation including swelling or even bleeding. The gingivitis is more severe and permanent damage is on the horizon. Stage III disease is the level at which periodontal disease occurs. The gums start to recede, bone around the tooth root is lost and the teeth become loose in the mouth. This stage of disease is not reversible with a simple cleaning. The teeth must be extracted. The important take home note: Your pet needs to have a dental cleaning BEFORE they reach Stage III.
So, where is Shaver Road Animal Hospital falling short? We need to emphasize the importance of that dental cleaning more! The patient that really sticks in my mind (let’s call him Clifford) was a new patient for us. Clifford is a high energy dog and does not allow his owners to brush his teeth or even examine his mouth closely. He had notations in his chart such as “Stage I gingivitis noted” and “haze of plaque and tartar seen” which then progressed to “mild gingival bleeding found on exam” and “dental cleaning becoming an urgent need.” This continued for three or four years until his owners decided to take advantage of our dental health month savings this year. Here are the pictures of Clifford’s mouth at the time of his cleaning this month:
As you can see, Clifford has numerous teeth that are loose and infected. He has two tumors that were quite large and required more extractions in order to remove them. I don’t recall the final number of extractions that Clifford endured or how long he needed to be under anesthesia to resolve all of the painful issues in his mouth. Let’s just say a LOT of extractions and HOURS of anesthesia! Keep in mind, Clifford’s owners are wonderful people. They love their boy! Like most owners, they just weren’t able to see the dangerous issues lurking in his mouth. Maybe if their veterinarian had explained even a year ago where Clifford was headed, he may have had that dental sooner, saved himself some teeth, and caught those tumors earlier on.
From now on, don’t be surprised if we spend a little more time explaining the repercussions of poor dental health for your pet. Expect a few more emails and maybe more blogs about the pitfalls of postponing a cleaning as well as the advantages of annual cleanings. We’ll be using stronger language to “grade” your pet’s oral health and we’ll be more blunt about when and why they need a cleaning. Take it from Clifford, you want your pet to have a less complicated, less expensive and more proactive dental cleaning experience!