VET’S DIARY: Dental work means Ben’s not down in the mouth

OUR Rothbury surgery sees a wide variety of animals and their owners. Farmers and horse owners frequently call in for advice and medicines, or to arrange visits from one of our vets. And morning and evening surgeries are invariably busy with cats and dogs brought in with various ailments and injuries, or for routine vaccinations, writes Dominic Plumley.

The surgery, like most of the others in the practice, is fully equipped with operating and X-ray facilities, as well as ultrasonic and air turbine dental equipment.

The dental equipment gets very well used, as it is an unfortunate fact that about 80 per cent of dogs and cats in the UK have some form of dental disease.

This ranges from mild gingivitis to severe periodontal disease with gum recession, ulceration and infection. It can be a hidden disease: the pain that it causes is often overlooked by an otherwise caring owner, as the dog or cat will in most cases continue to eat, even if not as enthusiastically as usual, and appears to get on with life as normal.

A case recently seen by Paul at Rothbury was Ben, a six-year-old border collie. Receptionist Carole had booked him in for a annual vaccination, adding a note on the appointment screen that Ben’s owner Sarah had mentioned that his breath had developed a distinctly unpleasant odour.

Ben and Sarah duly arrived at the appointed time, and Ben trotted into the consulting room, albeit a little apprehensively. Paul lifted Ben onto the table, where he promptly lay flat on his chest in true collie fashion.

The pre-vaccination examination soon revealed the source of Ben’s halitosis; his teeth were coated in tartar, an aggregate of plaque and food deposits.

Sarah was horrified when Paul lifted Ben’s lips to show her the dirty teeth and sore gums; although she was a devoted owner, it had never occurred to her to inspect Ben’s mouth, let alone that his teeth might need regular cleaning. Ben was duly booked in for dental treatment under general anaesthetic the following day.

After a pre-anaesthetic blood test to ensure that Ben had no problems with his liver or kidneys, assistant Annette gently held Ben while Paul induced anaesthesia with an intra-venous injection, then passed a tube down Ben’s windpipe.

The tube was then connected to a gas anaesthetic machine. With Ben now blissfully unaware of what was going on around him, his teeth were first cleaned with the ultrasonic scaler.

With the tartar removed, it became clear that four of Ben’s teeth were loose. The tartar had broken down the seal between the teeth and their sockets, allowing food debris to pack around the roots of the teeth, causing pain and infection. There was no alternative but to extract these teeth.

The remaining 38 teeth in Ben’s mouth were polished to slow down the return of plaque and tartar, and half an hour later Ben was back on his feet, a little wobbly but none the worse.

In fact, it is likely that he felt immediate relief with the removal of the painful teeth.

Ben went home that evening, after Sarah had been shown how to apply canine dental paste. This daily routine would first be done with her finger, and then, as Ben got used to it, with a small canine toothbrush.

Sarah’s regret was that she had not started this when Ben was still a pup, so that she could have prevented the dental disease that Ben had endured.

But at least she could now try and make sure that his remaining teeth stayed clean and that his gingivitis resolved.

Alnorthumbria Vets are currently running a campaign to encourage better care of the mouths of dogs and cats. Contact the practice for a free dental check-up, and a 10 per cent discount on any dental work that is required.