Dental health in our pets is one of the aspects of their overall health over which pet owners can have the greatest influence.
According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, over 80% of dogs and 70% of cats develop gum disease by the time they are 3 years old. Left untreated, gum disease will progress to periodontal disease – inflammation and infection of not only the gums, but the teeth themselves and even the bone holding those teeth. Also, the more inflamed and diseased even just the gums become, the easier it is for the bacteria in the mouth to be absorbed into the bloodstream and spread to the rest of the body where, over time, they can lead to inflammation, stress, and eventual damage to such organs as the heart, kidneys, and liver. The more inflamed and infected the mouth and teeth become, the more aggressive and nasty the types of bacteria that are found in the mouth that can spread into the body. Regular dental care both at home and in concert with your veterinarian can add years to your pet’s life.
There are many different options for providing regular dental care at home for your pets. The most obvious is brushing your pet’s teeth. There are many different types of toothbrushes specifically designed for dogs and cats, most of them designed just to fit over or attached to your fingertip. Make sure to use toothpaste that is for pets only, as human toothpaste will make most pets very sick to their stomach when swallowed. These toothpastes come in all sort of flavors from vanilla and mint to chicken, liver, or beef.
There are additives you can put in your pet’s water that help to reduce bacterial amounts in the mouth and/or provide enzymes for cleaning. Oral rinses can be used after meals to help flush the mouth. There is a wide variety of dental treats that have been designed to help keep their teeth clean and freshen their breath. Look for products that have been endorsed by the Veterinary Oral Health Council for those that have been proven to reduce tartar and/or plaque levels in pets’ mouths (http://www.vohc.org/accepted_products.htm).
Make sure to follow instructions carefully – more doesn’t always equal better. Inevitably at some point in their lifetime, your pet will need to get a dental cleaning with your veterinarian. Starting your pet on a schedule to get these cleanings at a younger age means better maintenance of oral health and shorter periods under anesthesia. A proper dental cleaning will have to be done with general anesthesia. This will allow the vet to perform a full exam of the mouth to look for problems or changes of concern beyond what they can see when the pet is awake for a normal physical exam. It will involve probing of the gums to look for hidden pockets next to the tooth roots that come from infection, assessment of any broken, loose or missing teeth, and, in some cases, x-rays of the mouth to look for problems below the gumline, where more than half of all periodontal problems reside. Once the teeth have been cleaned, they will be polished smooth to make it harder for tartar and plaque to adhere to the teeth and have a fluoride treatment applied, just like your dentist does. They will then go home with antibiotics usually to keep any bacteria that get into the bloodstream during cleaning cleared out and, if extractions were done, pain medicine.
You are the master of your pet’s dental health. Imagine how your mouth, and then you yourself, would feel if you never brushed your teeth or got them cleaned at the dentist as recommended. Keeping their mouths healthy keeps them healthy, and makes for much better pet kisses.
For additional information on dental health, see the following pages: