Oral Health and Your Pet, Does it Really Matter!?

Dr. Wendy Zawoysky, Hospital Owner

The answer is an unequivocal yes! According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, nearly 80% of dogs and 70% of cats demonstrate signs of oral disease by age 4. The health of a cat or dog’s mouth directly contributes to the overall health of the animal. Following veterinary advice on regular oral exams, digital imaging and dental prophylaxis is a great pathway to a happier and longer life for your beloved companion. At FVH we perform comprehensive oral care under general anesthesia beginning at age 3 for small dogs and age 4 for all cats and all other sizes of dogs. In addition, active preventive care at home starting as a puppy or kitten can play an important role to ensure that a mouth stays as healthy as possible.

Why are digital images important in evaluating oral health?
As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Digital radiology allows us to peer below the gum line and surrounding bone of each and every tooth. Obtaining these images allows for earlier detection of periodontal disease, reducing unnecessary pain for your pet and decreasing the potential for health complications secondary to an untreated problem in the mouth. Fairhaven Veterinary Hospital added a premium digital image system this past January and the results have been astounding. Below is an example of a patient that had a visibly unremarkable tooth. However, after digital images were obtained, underlying bone loss and periodontal disease were evident. The tooth was extracted and further infection and pain for this patient was halted.

Visually healthy mouth after completion of prophylaxis and exam.

Visually healthy mouth after completion of prophylaxis and exam.

Digital Imaging of "visually healthy mouth" revealed underlying periodontal disease.

Digital Imaging of “visually healthy mouth” revealed underlying periodontal disease.

So what is involved when my pet receives a “dental”?
Much like a trip to your own dentist the care provided during your pet’s visit in much more comprehensive than a teeth cleaning. However, unlike a trip to your dentist all care for your pet must be performed under a general anesthesia. Our general anesthesia is directed by the attending veterinarian and carefully proctored by one of our highly trained licensed veterinary technicians (LVT). Blood pressure, heart rate, and pulse oximeter readings aid the LVT in maintaining a safe anesthetic experience. We utilize a patient-specific selection of premedication, pain control and anesthetics along with IV fluid therapy throughout the procedure.

FVH has adopted the acronym COHAT to describe the entire dental procedure:

COH=Comprehensive oral health exam to include visual inspection of all teeth and entire oral cavity for lesions, and measuring of gingival pocket depth. The veterinarian will also search for any painful teeth or excessive movement. All information is recorded in a detailed dental chart for easy reference at future visits.

A=Assessment to include digital imaging ( X-ray photos) of common age and breed-specific problem areas and suspect teeth. In cats full mouth imaging is generally performed at every procedure. These digital images are used to determine what, if any, corrective measures must be taken to address underlying periodontal disease and pain.

T=Treatment is the final step of the COHAT and includes a full prophylactic scaling and polishing along with any needed oral surgery (i.e. extractions or gingivectomy). Oral surgery services are typically completed during the same anesthesia; local nerve blocks are performed to manage any accompanying pain. When deemed appropriate, advanced dental care (restoration, root canal…etc.) may be referred to a board certified veterinary dental specialist. Follow-up treatment to improve oral health may come in several forms. Your veterinarian may recommend any combination of special oral care diets, mouth rinses, antibiotic therapy, teeth brushing and dental chews. More frequent dental (COHAT) procedures will be recommended for pets demonstrating periodontal disease.

How much does the COHAT service cost?
FVH has created simplified pricing plans for the completion of the comprehensive oral health exam and assessment portion of the COHAT procedure:

Canine=$360/ Feline=$310 Price includes all premedication, pain control and anesthesia during the procedure, IV catheter placement and fluid therapy, complete oral exam and charting by the veterinarian, blood pressure monitoring, pulse oximetry, technician services, day hospitalization, ultrasonic scaling and polishing, and all digital images obtained.

The treatment portion of the COHAT procedure can be much more difficult to estimate before digital images are obtained. An attending DVM will attempt to give an oral health score based on visual observations at the exam preceding the procedure. This score generates an estimate of potential care needed; however, digital imaging may often reveal periodontal disease not visibly evident as discussed above. During the surgical check-in we will obtain a contact number that we may use intra-operatively. In the event treatment will exceed the estimate an attempt is made to update you before proceeding with the work.

FVH values the importance of making veterinary dental services available to all pet owners; as such, we have installment plans available for a small administrative fee and no interest to aid in providing the best care possible for your pet. Please call 360-671-3903 for more information on our financial programs and to schedule a COHAT today.

Check out the FVH Dental Care Handout