Caring for pets’ teeth is a mystery for many pet owners.
In reality, our little furry friends’ dental issues are really quite similar to ours.
As food particles, saliva, and bacteria collect on the dental surface, they form a soft plaque. Within 24-48 hours, however, the plaque begins to solidify into the mineralized tarter. Tarter firmly adheres to the teeth and harbors even more bacteria, resulting in an active inflammation of the gums called gingivitis.
The large amounts of bacteria in the mouth can also become a source of infection for the rest of the body. Each time the animal breathes and swallows, the bacteria are shed into the lungs, heart, kidneys, etc., potentially seeding further organ disease.
Any damage to the tooth’s surrounding gum and supportive bone tissues is considered periodontal disease. In Stages 1 and 2 of periodontal disease, the gums have mild to moderate gingivitis. The gingiva begins to recede away from the tooth surface and halitosis (bad breath) may already become noticeable. These changes are still reversible with appropriate treatment.
As the periodontal tissue infection progresses, the deep tissue adhesions and bone react and reabsorb. These are permanent changes in which the stability between the tooth root and the bone is lost. Painful abscesses at the root tip may develop once the integrity of the periodontum has been lost. Eventually the tooth may even fall out.
One significant concern for cats includes tooth resorptions. Unknown if they result from periodontal disease or another autoimmune process, these cavity-like defects in the tooth are usually progressive and very painful. These teeth generally should be extracted. Some cases are so severe they may require full mouth extractions.
A thorough dental cleaning procedure involves literally scraping tarter from the teeth and under the gum lining. At that time, your veterinarian will also examine all dental, gingival, and oral surfaces, looking for tooth decay, fractures, gingival pockets, and abnormal growths. Dental radiographs may be necessary to assess the root and bone structure. A final polishing will smooth the grooves on the teeth to help delay tarter recurrence.
Animals generally will not tolerate comprehensive teeth cleanings while awake. Patients should be safely anesthetized for a dental cleaning. As anesthesia does always carry its risks, discuss with your veterinarian the risks vs. benefits of such a procedure for your pet’s condition.
While patients should be safely anesthetized for a dental cleaning, this carries risks, so discuss with your veterinarian the risks vs. benefits of such a procedure for your pet’s condition.
Your Pet’s Teeth
On examination, your veterinarian will assess your pet’s oral health and make recommendations. With every visit, have your veterinarian show your pet’s teeth to you, so you are familiar with any subtle changes.
Meanwhile, the most evident problem you may notice with your pet may be bad breath. In other cases, your pet may begin chattering, drooling, eating hesitantly or stop eating altogether. Your first indication of a problem may even be a sudden swelling at the cheek from a tooth root abscess. Contact your veterinarian promptly with any abnormalities.
Home Dental Care
Pet oral care is an important opportunity to provide preventive care at home. Granted, some pets simply will not tolerate us near their mouths. Be patient and, more importantly, be safe. Allow a veterinary staff member to show you the best way to handle your pet.
At least a weekly brushing will significantly reduce the plaque and tarter build-up in your dog or cat’s mouth. With gradual, gentle introduction of the brush and toothpaste over several weeks, many dogs, and even some cats, will allow some brushing and/or oral rinsing. Use only dog and cat toothpaste that does not contain fluoride. Pet toothpastes are available in several palatable flavors.
Treat your pet’s teeth like your own. Prevention of oral disease will help the overall health and well-being of your dogs and cats.