Since February is National Pet Dental Health Month, it is again timely to remind ourselves what we can do to treat and prevent gingivitis and periodontal disease.
First, get a whiff of your pet’s breath! Imagine how your mouth would feel, taste, look and smell if you never brushed your teeth. Stinky breath is the first sign of a problem.
Next, lift the lip and look at the teeth and gums. Are the gums red and are the teeth becoming covered with tartar at the gum line?
The cause of dental disease in pets is basically the same as in people. The difference is that people take care of their own teeth, usually several times daily. Bacteria in the mouth combine with saliva and food debris to form plaque. As layers of plaque accumulate, dental tartar is formed. Over time, more layers of plaque combine and mineralize, resulting in calculus. While plaque is soft and can be brushed away, calculus is hard and must be scraped off or removed with a special instrument called a dental scaler.
Tartar and calculus trap bacteria in and under the gum line, which leads to irritation of the gum tissue (gingivitis) and then periodontal disease. Periodontal disease means sickness of the supporting tissues of the teeth: the ligaments that attach gum to tooth and jaw bone. The American Veterinary Dental Society estimates 75 percent of cats and dogs have gingivitis by age 4.
There is a pretty good chance your pet is in that 75 percent, unless you are practicing home care and having your pet’s teeth cleaned by your veterinarian. I also tell our clients that three out of 10 patients have oral pain, and since dogs and cats still appear to eat normally despite their discomfort — an evolutionary survival trait — it goes unrecognized. Beyond these problems in the mouth, periodontal disease can lead to systemic problems. Bacterial infection can spread from the mouth to the heart valves, kidney and liver. Without regular veterinary exams, much of our pet’s dental disease isn’t detected until it’s really bad.
Home brushing programs are the cornerstone to a lifetime of dental health. Though it may sound complicated, it is actually something that most dogs and cats will readily accept given the proper technique and some patience and persistence. Since most owners do not have the time or inclination to attempt this, other home dental care options have been developed. Special diets and treats are made that will help minimize plaque build-up and oral rinses or water additives can help control bacteria. None of these replace brushing and having regular dental exams with your veterinarian.
A full dental prophylaxis or professional cleaning is the best way to keep your pet’s mouth healthy and comfortable. We are now routinely using a sealant called Sanos, which is applied after the teeth are cleaned at the gum line to seal the sub-gingival gum line, thus preventing tartar accumulation for up to six months. Dental prophylaxis is a bit more involved in pets than in people since they won’t voluntarily open wide and general anesthesia is required to allow a complete dental exam and thorough cleaning. Without full sedation, it is impossible to truly address all problem areas, especially the areas under the gum line. As with people, intra-oral radiographs of teeth are becoming a common standard of care as well. Research shows that 30 to 40 percent of normal looking teeth have root issues under the gums.
In summary, you cannot neglect the oral health of your pet. Assess their mouths now. Many veterinarians have incentives for National Pet Dental Health Month, so call yours today.