Home Dental Care: Your Solution to the General Anesthetic Dilemma

February is the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Pet Dental Health Month – the time of year when pet parents are urged to take their dogs and cats into their local vet clinic for a dental check-up and annual cleaning. Periodontal disease – an infection of the teeth and gums – is the most common clinical condition diagnosed in domestic pets…and it’s also completely preventable with regular vet exams and daily at-home care.

Many caregivers dismiss a veterinary dental cleaning because of the risks involved with general anesthesia, either through personal fear, or because of some prior health issues that would increase the risk of surgical complications for their animal.

To avoid both the risk and the expense of general anesthesia, as conscientious pet parents, we can perform regular dental brushing at home to stop the disease before it takes hold in our dogs’ mouth and gums.

What is periodontal disease and what does it look like?

Periodontal disease occurs when the bacterium in your dog’s mouth breaks down the food particles left behind after eating into a sticky, yellowish plaque that begins adhering to the outer surfaces of the animal’s teeth. Minerals in canine saliva cause the plague to harden to a substance called tartar that resembles gray or brown concrete around each tooth.

Once subgingival tartar begins to form under the gumline, your dog’s gums typically become red and inflamed, and begin to recess from the tooth surface. The teeth loosen and bone loss around the tooth root routinely follows. Untreated periodontal disease can result in bone infections and jaw fractures.

Not only does your dog’s breath smell from the accumulation of bacteria and infection, but untreated animals often suffer from cardiac disease and kidney problems caused by the oral bacteria travelling through the bloodstream and infecting various body organs and systems.

What are the risks of anesthesia for my dog?

During a routine veterinary dental cleaning, dogs are anesthetized to allow the veterinarian to probe under the gumline for tartar and any abscesses or infections. For most animals, the risks of anesthesia are minimal. For other dogs, however, age, illness, and prior bad experiences with anesthesia can deter a veterinarian from recommending a dental cleaning…even when the procedure is considered necessary for the animal’s health.

Because of various disease processes, and changes in their cardiovascular systems and respiratory functions, older dogs are often vulnerable to complications under general anesthesia. Conversely, very young puppies can be at increased risk for hypothermia, hypoglycemia, and slower-than-normal drug metabolism.

Some breeds are also prone to anesthesia complications. Greyhounds typically have longer sleep times than other dogs, and the brachycephalic breeds with their pushed in snouts (Boston terriers, pugs, English bulldogs, etc.) are more disposed to upper airway obstructions.

Temperament also plays a role in anesthesia issues. Excitable, aggressive dogs often require a higher dose of pre-anesthetic drugs that can lead to longer down times. On the other hand, quiet or depressed animals may require less sedation or anesthesia, necessitating a higher level of electronic monitoring while asleep.

What can I do to prevent periodontal disease and keep my pet from undue anesthetic procedures?

If you know general anesthesia can be problematic for your dog for any reason, taking care of your dog’s teeth at home on a regular basis can save you the expense and worry of that annual dental cleaning by prolonging the time in between procedures.

Most holistic veterinarians recommend daily dental brushing with a natural doggy toothpaste containing organic ingredients such as tea tree oil, with its fresh smell, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial properties, and potassium phosphate that reduces tartar build-up.

During the times you can’t brush, you can run gentle, alcohol-free dental wipes over your pet’s teeth and gums to get rid of bacteria and food particles and freshen the breath. Sodium bicarbonate and pomegranate extract in the wipes work to clean the teeth and reduce plaque and gum disease, while organic peppermint serves as an astringent.

Further treatment can include a regular dose of all-natural pro-biotic anti-plaque spray to reduce the oral bacteria causing your dog’s plaque and bad breath. Free from any flourides, added detergents, or synthetic colors or flavors, a spray of this type used on a regular basis can stop tartar build-up before it starts by killing off the bad disease-causing bacteria with added pro-biotics. In addition, fruit concentrates high in antioxidants in the spray reduce inflammation and promote healthy gums.

Remember…if you have one of those dogs at risk for anesthetic complications, regular at-home teeth cleaning can help your pooch enjoy a long, healthy life without submitting to a veterinary cleaning every year…and it saves you money.

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