Dental hygiene is important for all members of the family, even dogs and cats! After all they don’t have opposable thumbs and can’t floss or brush their own teeth! After awhile this takes its toll. Studies have shown that 85% of pets have periodontal disease by 3 years of age. (Periodontal means “around the tooth”)
You should feel comfortable regularly looking at your pet’s teeth and mouth. Are the teeth white and the gums a healthy pink like yours? Do you see staining or mineralized tan or brown tartar? Is the gumline red and inflamed where it touches the tooth?
Tartar, or calculus, starts out as plaque (a mix of bacteria saliva) and can harden over time into a mineralized material. This tartar causes inflammation of the gums called gingivitis. As it progresses it affects the attachments of the dental ligaments below the gumline eventually loosening the tooth as bone loss progressess. About 70% of the normal tooth should be below the gumline. The bacteria in the mouth can enter the bloodstream from the inflamed gums and cause problems in other organs including the heart, liver and kidneys.
Good dental health requires routine professional cleaning even with regulat brushing. A cosmetic cleaning is not the same as a professional cleaning which involves six steps.
1) Visible tartar is removed either by hand-scaling with special dental instruments or an ultrasonic scaler or a combination of the two.
2) The tiny bits of tartar/stains are removed with smaller instruments.
3) The gumline around the tooth is probed to determine if deep pockets are evident, indicating periodontal disease.
4) The tartar below the gumline is removed.
5) The enamel surface of the tooth is polished to smooth the surface.
6) The mouth is rinsed with a disinfectant and a fluoride sealer applied.
Of course to enable these procedures to be accomplished, anesthetics are needed. As with any anesthetic event there is always a slight risk involved. But anesthetic agents used in veterinary medicine today are much safer than years past. We always recommend pre-anesthetic bloodwork to look for possible abnormalities which could affect anesthetic choices.
Brushing the teeth is the best routine home care. There are veterinary toothpastes available which contain enzymes that can help remove the plaque. While plaque can start reforming in as little as 48 hours after a cleaning,
it’s usually recommended to wait for a week before brushing. DO NOT use human toothpaste for you pets. It’s been shown that brushing three times weekly is adequate to maintain healthy teeth, but daily brushing is needed to help control gingivitis.
Pet enzymatic toothpastes are usually poultry or beef flavored and are expected the be swallowed. Take 30-60 seconds to apply the toothpaste to the outside surface of the teeth. There are special brushes for pets, or you can use a cloth or gauze for application.
For those pets who are difficult the brush, there are dental rinses designed to help cut down on the bacteria in the mouth. Specially designed dental chews are readily available which can aid in dental health. Use common sense as to size as some smaller or softer chews may be swallowed in too large of a piece, causing stomach upset. DO NOT offer bones or cow hooves as these are too hard and can break teeth.
Regular home care and periodic professional cleaning will help keep your pet healthy and happy!