Dental disease poses one of the most challenging and frustrating conditions to deal with in veterinary practice. Whether being an initial source of complaint or picked up at a routine vaccination visit, deciding on an appropriate treatment plan and getting the owner on board with realistic expectations and financial considerations can be difficult. Persuading an owner to go down the general anaesthetic route for a scale and polish with any appropriate extractions can be tough enough, but it is important that the owner realises that even with this intervention, ongoing home care is essential for maintaining dental health, or the patient will be back at square one in a short space of time.
Home care for dental maintenance is a massively under-utilised preventative measure. It not only acts as a deterrent for the onset of dental disease, but it is beneficial in acclimatising the animal to regular oral examination and ongoing dental care; the earlier this is started in the pet’s life, the easier it will be.
Give realistic advice
Communicating the importance of home dental care requires the veterinary team to take the time to discuss oral healthcare options with owners and assess what will be most appropriate for each individual patient and owner based on a number of factors. For example, it is important to know how compliant an individual owner will be and to make sure their expectations are realistic.
Things to consider include:
- How committed is an owner to a regime?
- Are they able to perform physically demanding tasks?
- How accepting is their pet?
The gold standard in terms of dental home care is tooth-brushing. However, this can also be the hardest and most time-consuming task to perform. Ideally, daily brushing is advised as anything else significantly reduces efficacy. The benefits of brushing teeth are twofold: the abrasion to remove plaque and inhibition of bacteria through using a suitable product like CET (complex enzymatic thiocyanate) toothpaste, which inhibits the growth of plaque-forming bacteria.
Nurse clinics can be invaluable in teaching owners the best method of introducing toothbrushing to their pet from an early age, but as mentioned above, it is also important to identify cases where this may not be achievable and be ready to offer an alternative to owners. Whilst these options may not provide the same results as toothbrushing, their increased ease of use can prevent owners becoming disheartened and simply avoiding all forms of home dental care.
Chlorhexidine rinses are beneficial and are very easy for pet owners to use. Chlorhexidine is a very effective broad-spectrum antiseptic, which, although ideally should be combined with mechanical cleaning, also has a beneficial effect with just topical application. Oral rinses provide a less intrusive option for owners whose pets don’t tolerate brushing.
Alongside brushing and oral rinses, there is a third choice for owners. Choosing a well-designed, healthy dental chew can help to make a difference in the dental health of a pet. The action of chewing helps to strengthen and exercise the periodontal ligament and alveolar bone. Chews are available that are specifically designed to conform to the shape of the tooth and help to remove plaque from the teeth.
In summary, it is important to show pet owners that dental care can be approached in a multitude of ways and alongside regular dental health checks in clinic, owners can utilise easy-to-use home care products which help to keep plaque and tartar at bay.