By Vickie Byard, CVT, VTS (Dentistry)

Grade1 vs grade 4

Which anesthetic experience do you think is cheaper and safer?  Which do you want for your pet?

Imagine a world, where, for some reason, you could no longer brush your own teeth and no one would do it for you.  I don’t know about you, but already that idea is making me squirm.  But, imagine it none-the-less.  I don’t think I have to draw the picture for you. It wouldn’t be very long and you would experience gingivitis, periodontitis, tooth loss and pain.  Your body would be constantly battling the infection in your mouth and your personal immune reserves would be challenged daily…hourly…actually moment-by-moment.

How could you attempt to maintain any semblance of health for yourself? You would seek professional care from a dentist.  You would ask that dentist for his/her recommendations on how to keep your mouth pain free in the face of your inability to provide any home care. Personally, I can’t imagine any dentist worth their salt that wouldn’t recommend frequent professional cleanings and assessment. That is a pretty precise analogy for the mouths of most pets.

The possible future effects of Friday night’s ABCs 20/20:  True Confessions is still hot on my mind.  So, altruistic!  How nice it is for the show to do all that investigative reporting to provide the public with the truth.  #sarcasm

The journalism and reporting provided by this show was shameful.  Talk about being motivated by money.  These producers were motivated by getting viewership, which leads to more corporate dollars.  Sensationalism is a strategy, not sound journalism.  I am so disappointed that a whole group of people; researchers, reporters, a director, editor, production manager, boom operator, camera people, etc…..they all decided to air all of those inaccuracies.  Not one on the staff dared to say this is wrong!?

Sound journalism and reporting? They used a veterinarian as their “source”, that resigned his veterinary license after a long battle with the College of Veterinarians of British Columbia after extensive inquiry found him guilty of violating numerous sections of their Code of Ethics and Bylaws in respect to marketing his own business activities. Footage displayed a mouth harboring a mass and deemed it unworthy of investigation.  They did not balance the message with information provided by the experts; any member of the American Veterinary Dental College.

The reality is this: pet owners all over the country are going to be worried.  Some stranger came into their homes, whispered a secret in their ear and shook their world. There is so much power in the media. We veterinary professionals are outraged by this story but I wonder; will we as individuals look at a drink at the bar differently? How do our pet owners discern what is truth in terms of the recommendations made by who they thought was their friend, their veterinarian versus what they heard on TV?  This story played to every fear they have.

AAHA (The American Animal Hospital Association) published the results of an extensive, national client survey and owners reported that if a recommendation had been made for dental services and they did not schedule that care, it was much more likely that they were afraid of anesthesia than they were about cost.  Now, I know very well that there has been a big, national, economic upset since that survey was published but the essence of the information remains.

It always boils down to trust and our ability to retain that treasured respect.  We need to understand that this is going to be confusing for them.  It would be confusing for me if this had been a story about the recommendations that my personal physician made.  What if the story had been titled; True Confessions:  Colonoscopies!  Anesthesia Every 5 Years to Look Where?  I wonder how many people would question the recommendation for that procedure. How many would then distrust their physicians.   I also wonder, if a story like this aired on national TV, how many would be afraid to provide that preventive care for themselves.  I would also like to extrapolate further and I wonder how many people would die from lack of that service…all due to a sensational story on Friday night T.V.?

It broke my heart when they stated that dental cleanings are not needed until they have periodontal disease.  That is comparable to saying a dog does not need to be spayed until she develops a pyometra.  Does spaying a dog or cat carry an anesthetic risk? Absolutely! There is always some inherent risk to any general anesthetic procedure.  But, the risk is much greater when the pet is debilitated, older, and the procedure requires a lengthy anesthetic experience.  Also, the show did not describe the cost; medical nor financial of not providing the recommended care.

We, as professionals, need to embrace the fact that many of our clients will now be more worried and apprehensive.  In addition, we have to realize that fear is not experienced the same across all people.  Some may be worried, some questioning, some critical and some may even come across as combative.  We NEED to listen to them and be conscious of the fact that they want to be the best guardians of these pets they can be and they do want the best for them.  We can’t take their concerns or comments personally. Our defensiveness will just embed their concerns further.  This is a time when we need to hold out a hand and guide them through the darkness into which they have just been plunged.  What our clients need most from us right now is compassion, understanding, empathy, confidence and an openness to their concerns. That is the pathway back to wellness care.

Maybe we should send ABC and Disney a Thank You card.  They opened up a very important conversation!

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