AAHA to Release Dental Care Guidelines, First in the Veterinary Industry

Tooth charting, dental x-rays and daily oral health care are a few of the suggestions included in AAHA’s Dental Guidelines for Dogs and Cats, a document that will be released by the association on Sept. 1, 2005. “This is so exciting,” said Kate Knutson, DVM, one of five veterinarians and one technician on the task force. “This will prompt a whole new mindset for people. I think that we have been missing a whole lot of oral pain.”

The document, believed to be the industry’s first set of dental guidelines, outlines practice steps and focuses on procedures and equipment. AAHA’s dental guidelines were created by a task force of six veterinary professionals including doctors, technicians and dental specialists. The project was sponsored by Merial. Guidelines will be available to members online Sept. 1, 2005, and the document will be published in the September/October issues of JAAHA and Trends magazine.

Experts suggest that annual cleanings and dental evaluations should begin as early as one year of age for cats and small breed dogs, and at two years of age for large breed dogs. Some of the dental procedures, which include tooth charting and x-rays, could add up to an hour to dental exams but, Knutson says, the results of dental health are visible. “I have had patients tell me that their dogs act so much younger” after dental cleanings and procedures, she said, “Teeth are so critical to how you feel. It’s the most amazing thing you can do as a doctor – to take away oral pain.”

The document also may help doctors feel more comfortable about advising clients to have their pets’ teeth cleaned, which improves pet health and boosts clinic income, said Clarence Sitzman, DVM, president of the American Veterinary Dental Society. “You have to believe in it yourself in order to feel more comfortable telling clients about it [teeth cleaning],” he said. “You’re really doing them a favor.”

Sitzman sees the area of dental work as a huge growth opportunity for general practitioners who, on average, could quadruple their current dental business. And, he added, growing that area may be as simple as informing clients about the necessity to clean their dogs’ teeth. “Ten years ago a lot of clients laughed at me when I told them they needed to get their dog’s teeth cleaned,” Sitzman said. “They thought it was a joke. Today there’s more awareness out there,” he added. Sitzman attributes the increased awareness to Pet Dental Month, pet foods geared toward oral health and other dental pet products (food and treats), many of which are approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council, an arm of the American Veterinary Dental College.