Oral disease is the most frequently diagnosed health problem in pets, yet it isn’t receiving the necessary attention from owners.
Veterinarians must put the information in front of clients again and again. But many owners treat the obvious ailments and leave those disguised in the mouth to fester–literally.
February celebrates those daily efforts made by veterinary teams that make dental care a core part of their protocol.
Sponsors are uniting again this month to boost veterinary dental health care by promoting National Pet Dental Health Month, in hope of enhancing the 2 percent rate of client compliance for daily home dental care and professional exams.
While more than 1,400 veterinary professionals are members of the American Veterinary Dental Society, only about 100 veterinarians are board certified in dental care. This isn’t to say more general practitioners and technicians aren’t interested in dentistry. But in large part vets aren’t utilizing the tools necessary to entice clients into complying with dental care recommendations.
“More emphasis needs to be placed on the importance of year-round dental care,” says John Lewis, DVM, Dipl. AVDC, president-elect of the AVDS and assistant professor of veterinary dentistry and oral surgery at the University of Pennsylvania. “Having access to the right dental equipment will enhance the likelihood of owners’ compliance and interest in having their pets’ dental procedures performed.”
The American Veterinary Medical Assn. estimates that 66 percent of companion animals have untreated Stage One periodontal disease. This figure exists in part because of failure to recommend early treatment options such as professional cleaning and X-rays.
While authorities say veterinary professionals are getting through to owners more than in the past, much more ground needs to be covered to close the gap between the need for dental care and what is being performed.
“One way to approach clients is to make dental care part of puppy and kitten health exams,” Dr. Lewis says. “Start at this age so the pet and owner can get used to the cleaning process. This makes dental cleaning part of an owner’s regular pet maintenance and takes a proactive approach instead of reactive, once the problem is there.”
One way to encourage clients to invest in professional dental care for pets is to discuss problems that can occur due to poor dental care or that can go unnoticed due to lack of an oral exam.
“Discussing preventive care with clients will reduce the risk of future costly dental procedures, exacerbated by lack of maintenance,” says Linda DeBowes, DVM, of Shoreline Veterinary Dental Clinic in Seattle. “Use the analogy of lack of care to their own mouth. Just about everyone has experienced dental pain.”
Experts say clients understand the need for dental care, but there’s a disconnect in clients’ perception of the repercussions when care isn’t consistent.
“Periodontal disease is getting more attention by researchers,” Lewis says. “In literature, anywhere from 21 to 75 percent of feline patients have resorptive lesions. I can say about half of all cats seen at our practice have them.”
Routine problems and issues such as oral cancer can be discovered during aggressive dental exams with the right equipment. Lewis says having a dental X-ray machine is essential for any general practice interested in improving dental health options.
“Without a dental X-ray machine, you can only see about 50 percent of the tooth’s structure,” Lewis says. “The dental X-ray allows you to determine if the entire root has been extracted or if a root canal has been properly performed.”
DeBowes says that aggressively promoting dental care and having the necessary equipment in-house are just additional ways to provide the best care to your patients.
“Clients will recognize your ability to provide the best for their pet, and be more loyal in the long run,” DeBowes says.
Promoting your dental equipment in your practice will heighten credibility and awareness.
“I thought I was doing a good job before I invested in additional dental equipment,” says Mike Bagley, DVM, of Clayton Animal Hospital in Clayton, N.C. “But I found out I wasn’t because I was missing roots and pathology I would have never identified without the equipment.”
Second on the list of dental equipment must-haves is a high-speed dental unit that makes extractions easier.
“A high-speed drill may be most influential in performing good dentistry,” Lewis says. “This will make the extraction easier for the doctor as well as the animal.”
Dr. Bagley’s five-practitioner practice received such an overwhelmingly positive client response after purchasing its first dental X-ray machine that it bought a second one six months later to keep up with the volume of patients in need of care.
“I purchase a lot of equipment that helps me make a better diagnosis but doesn’t necessarily pay for itself in a speedy manner,” Bagley says.
“Dental equipment was not one of those long-term return on investments. But within the first year of purchase, the $4,000-apiece machines had paid for themselves.”
A third necessary piece of dental equipment is an ultrasonic scaler for periodontal therapy.
This equipment needs to be handled by a skilled professional. Heating of the tooth during scaling and vibrational hazards can cause cell disruption, possible platelet damage by cavitation, associated electromagnetic fields that can interrupt pacemakers, auditory damage to patient and clinician, and the release of aerosols containing dangerous bacteria.
“There are a number of references that can help you become more skilled in the higher-grade equipment,” Bagley says. “Investing in dental equipment is a win-win situation for everyone as it helps you hone your skills, it’s better for the patients and the owner is providing the best care possible for their pet.”
From the Veterinary Practice News archives.