Did you know that your pet’s oral health is as important as your own? Imagine a life without cringe-worthy “dog breath” when you cuddle your furry friend! It is possible.
As with human dentistry, a healthy pet mouth has clean, white teeth and pink (not red) gums that attach smoothly to the tooth and don’t bleed. Unfortunately, 85% of pets have periodontal disease by the time they are 3 years old, causing pain and potentially serious complications. It is more common in older pets and smaller breeds.
Dental disease develops via 2 related stages: plaque progresses to tartar, and gingivitis progresses to periodontitis.
Plaque is formed by a collection of food, bacteria, and saliva. Plaque buildup leads to tooth staining and bad breath, as well as gum inflammation. If the plaque is not removed via brushing, it mineralizes and solidifies into tartar. Tartar removal requires a professional cleaning by your veterinarian, otherwise it destroys the attachment of the tooth root and the bone of the jaw. Bone loss is irreversible.
The bacteria in plaque can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis). If treated early, this damage is reversible. If the gum inflammation is not resolved, it can progress to periodontitis. When this happens, pockets form below the gumline and the gum permanently separates from the tooth, resulting in loose teeth.
As a serious complication, bacteria can enter the bloodstream via inflamed gums and cause infection in the heart, liver, and kidneys.
SIGNS OF DENTAL DISEASE
Some signs are obvious and relatable, while others may not be so apparent.
- Bad breath
- Excessive drooling
- Changed chewing habits, including favouring one side of the mouth or reluctance to eat/chew
- Pawing at/rubbing the mouth/muzzle
- Bleeding gums
- Chronic sneezing
- Yellow or brown crust on the teeth
- Abnormal eye or nasal discharge
- A growth in the mouth
- Broken, loose, or missing teeth
Veterinarians recommend brushing your pet’s teeth at least 3-4 times per week. Brushing removes the plaque and the elements that form it, and a bristle brush is best. You can buy appropriate brushes at any pet store.
Daily examinations of your pet’s mouth are also important. Not only does this accustom your pet to having its mouth handled, you can also familiarize yourself with how your pet’s mouth normally looks. Keep an eye out for tartar, swelling, redness, bleeding, loose teeth, missing or broken teeth, and abnormal growths. The back teeth usually acquire more tartar. If they appear yellow or brown it is time for a professional cleaning.
Do not use a human toothpaste. Unlike human varieties, pet toothpastes do not contain foaming agents and are safe when swallowed. Pet stores sell a variety of pet-friendly flavours.
The ideal tool is a bristle brush that can reach between teeth and below the gumline. Other products include soft plastic fingertip brushes, dental wipes and pads, gels, and rinses. Arm & Hammer makes a handy microfibre finger brush which slips over one finger with a safety loop for security.
Get your pet used to having its mouth handled, then introduce brushing in a stepwise fashion. Use the brush on its own at first, without any paste. Once he/she is comfortable with the brushing, add the flavoured paste to the routine. You do not need to clean the inner surfaces of the teeth because their saliva is sufficient.
Approved dental treats are roughly 70% effective at removing plaque and tartar if chewed properly on a daily basis. Remember to factor their calorie content into your pet’s daily requirement (see last month’s article). Look for the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) seal to be certain the treat is proven effective. Note that cow hooves and bones are too hard for your pet’s teeth and can easily break them.
Dental kibble is available from pet stores and your veterinarian. The pieces are larger and harder, meaning your pet must chew the kibble thoroughly. The crunching and scraping action removes plaque and tartar from the surface of the molars and premolars, but not the incisors and canines.
Professional cleaning is required every 6 to 12 months. A proper cleaning requires general anesthesia in order to fully scale (scrape the tartar off), polish, and disinfect each tooth and reach below the gum line. The sooner and more often this is done, the less likely gingivitis, periodontitis, and tooth extractions become. The exam includes documentation of recessed gums as well as fractured, worn, loose, and missing teeth.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Ask your veterinary clinic if they participate in February and/or March’s Dental Month(s). This is a great time to assess your pet’s oral health and, if necessary, schedule a professional cleaning. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!