WORK ON THE WILD SIDE: Dentists keep animals' teeth clean and healthy

For many, a trip to the dentist is pretty common to keep their teeth healthy. 

Like humans, animals teeth are part of their overall health, and they, too, need help with their pearly whites.

"We have a few clients who ask us, 'can you do my teeth and my dogs teeth at the same time?'" said Dr. Curt Coffman with the Arizona Veterinary Dental Specialists.  

Like most here at office in Scottsdale, Dr. Coffman has his team of nurses and hygienists, along with his patients lined up for the day. The only difference is his patients don't talk, don't let him know what tooth is bothering them, or for that matter, brush and floss very much.

Filling the dental chairs at the facility aren't people, but people's four-legged friends.

"The animals tooth is really made of the same materials as ours. Enamel, dentin, root canal, pulp, that sort of stuff," said Dr. Coffman. "Really just a different shape and a different size depending on Yorkie, Great Dane, or lion at the zoo. The same instruments that we use for them are the ones your dentist would use for you. Drilling and sounds. You'll hear the same sounds today in our office that you would hear at your dentist if you were going for a filling."

The procedures one would expect to have at their dentist are pretty much the same for the dogs and cats, and much more. Several doctors, like Dr. Chris Visser, work on multiple animals through the day.  

"Fracture repair in dogs that have had trauma to their jaw, specialized X-Rays to check for teeth below the gum lines. We'll do crowns and root canals. All the stuff that you can get at your dentist we can do for dogs and cats," said Dr. Coffman.

Before any dental procedure, the cats and dogs are put under. They snooze while the doctors and drills go to work. These doctors rely heavily on X-Rays and the pets owner to tell them what's wrong.

"The most common oral disease in dogs and cats is periodontal disease," said Dr. Coffman. "So, gum disease, essentially, because your teeth get dirty, then you get Gingivitis and eventually gum disease or gum recession. Dogs and cats don't always brush their teeth."         

When the doctors aren't working on the domesticated side of things, they take a walk on the wild side at the Phoenix Zoo.

"At the Zoo, I really try to pay close attention to if I see any twitching or moving, because our hands are usually in their mouth," said Dr. Coffman.

On a particular day, the doctors worked on a jaguar with a few broken teeth. That was just one of the many exotic cases they have worked on. 

"Just supersized," said Dr. Coffman. "Same shape and same number of teeth that a domestic cat has, but probably three times, four times as big. Those big carnivores, like the cats or the wolves, they're very similar to dogs and cats, just different sizes. The hard stuff comes when they call us in to look at the warthog, the sea otter, or one of those, the wallaby. One of those species that doesn't have teeth like we're used to treating."    
  
Like the domesticated cats, these much larger cats need to be put under, but on a more serious scale. It takes a team of zookeepers to tranquilize them. Theses keepers stay in the room monitoring the cat's vitals, making sure he or she stays peacefully asleep. This gives Dr. Coffman a little comfort, knowing he'll be soon staring into the mouth of a ferocious feline.   

"There's a lot more going on, a lot of people," said Dr. Coffman. "There's a lot of things happening at once, because when they have one of these big cats sedated, they're doing blood, they're doing vaccines, they're doing clinical exams, they're doing an ultrasound. A lot of stuff may be going on on the back end when I'm working on the front end."

When it's all said and done, Dr. Coffman and his staff just want to make sure every animal leaves with their teeth intact, mouth cleaned, and in some cases, ready to roar.

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