Oral health: A multipronged approach

Address the need for lifetime oral healthcare by investing in these key areas of your practice.


Bill Gengler, DVM, DAVDC
Companion animal practices offer a wide array of services to small animal clients. One of the most important services veterinarians provide is oral healthcare—and rightly so. After all, periodontal disease is the most common disease found in companion animals, and it affects animals' health in a myriad of ways.

Periodontal disease increases the potential for septicemia, which can affect the cardiovascular system, liver, and kidneys. Although most practices offer dental cleaning and polishing services, it's my belief that these services are often offered too late—after the bony substructure is already permanently damaged.




Unfortunately, there are many obstacles that contribute to low oral healthcare compliance among clients. When clients view professional care as an expense that takes time away from other obligations and requires anesthesia, it's easy for them to brush dental care aside. Additionally, home care requires a time commitment on the owner's part. We live in a busy world where time away from work is extremely precious. Owners must often prioritize family, social, and community obligations.

So how do general practitioners currently address the need for lifetime oral healthcare? In short, they use a multi-pronged approach that concentrates on wellness, in-house diagnostics, quality anesthesia, pain management, team training, and client communication. Before I address these areas, it's important to mention that the success or failure of oral healthcare services hinges first on the commitment and conviction of the veterinarian in charge. If the veterinarian strongly believes that a service benefits the patient, the service will cultivate compliance and succeed as a profit center.




1. Wellness programs. Today's practitioner knows that a total wellness plan isn't complete unless it incorporates preventive dentistry. Few patients that presently receive dental prophylaxis are free of oral pathology. Rather than continuing to just treat existing or advanced oral disease, team members promote the importance of preventive dentistry to clients when their pets are young.

Veterinary manufacturers are also helping in the effort to prevent periodontal disease by producing a myriad of professional and home care products, such as dentifrice, safe chew items, oral sealant gels, and diets with the mechanical and chemical ability to reduce plaque and calculus (see "New oral healthcare products").

2. In-house diagnostics. Today's quality dental programs include preanesthetic testing and diagnostic imaging. Preanesthetic testing gives veterinarians the ability to assess vital organ function in advance, which reduces the risk of complications for patients and helps allay clients' fears of anesthesia.

Diagnostic imaging is key to preventing periodontal disease. Periodontal disease causes bone loss, and dental radiography can detect the early signs that may not be visible at the tissue level. As with most diseases, early detection of periodontal disease helps ensure the best treatment outcome. Early intervention decreases patient discomfort and risk of disease, and owners don't have the added costs of treating advanced cases.

The advent of in-house diagnostic technology is a perfect fit for dental services and wellness medicine. In-house, automated dry chemistry profiles and blood counts allow practitioners to provide the wellness examination, blood work, and dental procedure in a same-day visit rather than scheduling them over multiple visits.

3. Quality anesthesia. The fear of anesthetizing pets—not cost—is the main reason for clients' adversity toward dental care. Many clients don't understand why their pets need anesthesia for prophylactic care when anesthesia isn't necessary for their own routine dental care.

Today's practitioner understands a client's uneasiness with anesthesia but does his or her best to allay those fears by: