How to best care for your pet’s teeth

Periodontal disease is the most common veterinary diagnosis. According to the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC), about 80 percent dogs and cats have some evidence of periodontal disease by age 3.smiling-dog

In a 2010 study by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA), only about 25 percent of dog owners had purchased dental products within the last year, and only 32 percent said they brushed their dog’s teeth – and even then, only a few times per year.

Dogs and cats, like humans, need daily or near-daily brushings in addition to regular veterinary dental exams and professional cleanings to keep their teeth at their healthiest. That’s because periodontal disease begins with plaque, which forms when bacteria from the mouth stick to the surface of the teeth. As more saliva sits on plaque, calculus (tartar) develops.

As plaque and tartar spread beneath the gum line, the tissues around the teeth become damaged, and can lead to tooth loss. Periodontal disease includes gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), and periodontitis (loss of bone and soft tissue around the teeth).

Periodontal disease can affect the nasal passages and the jaw bone, and bacteria from the mouth can enter the bloodstream and be carried around the body. Studies in dogs show that dental disease is associated with small changes in the heart, liver, and kidneys, which can lead to problems in those organs.

Easy to prevent, easy to overlook
Dental disease is easy to prevent, but it’s also one of the easiest for owners to overlook, because other than bad breath (which doesn’t happen in all pets), there aren’t many symptoms. Only a veterinarian can recognize all the signs of periodontal disease, making annual dental exams of utmost importance to your pet’s health.

However, there are some signs of dental disease, including bad breath, a reluctance to eat, whining while eating, pawing at the face, excessive drooling, excessive licking around the mouth and nose, and discolored teeth.

Even if your pet isn’t exhibiting any of these signs, they may still be due for a dental exam if they like to chew abrasive substances, such as rocks, or if they haven’t had a dental exam in more than a year and do not receive regular dental care at home.

The ins and outs of professional dental care
When your pet receives dental services at Chisholm Trail Veterinary Clinic, you should expect a full day’s stay. First, we evaluate your pet’s fitness for anesthesia, often running a health screen that includes bloodwork and a urinalysis. For a complete dental exam, radiographs, and dental work, your pet is under a safe general anesthesia. We perform a full dental examination and take dental radiographs (x-rays) to evaluate the structures in the mouth we cannot see. We then perform an ultrasonic scaling above and below the gum line to remove plaque and calculus. Afterwards, we polish the teeth to help prevent plaque-forming bacteria from attaching to the teeth. In some instances, we apply a sealant to the teeth.

We recommend an annual dental exam so we can visually inspect the teeth for cracked or loose teeth, recessed gums, or obvious plaque and tartar. We recommend one dental cleaning per year, too.

Practicing healthy dental habits at home
While professional dental care is important, at-home care is just as important. Just like your own teeth, you need to keep your pets’ teeth in top shape between professional cleanings. This includes daily or nearly-daily brushing with a toothbrush and pet-friendly toothpaste. Do not use human toothpaste, and do not force your pet to have their teeth brushed. Introduced properly (calmly, without pressure), a daily teeth brushing can be a great bonding experience between you and your pet.

You can also give your pets dental chews or certain human foods, such as carrots or apples, that promote healthy teeth. Certain foods also promote dental health; ask a Chisholm Trail Veterinary Clinic veterinarian if this is a good choice for your pet.

There are no products that can remove tartar and calculus that have already accumulated on the teeth – only a professional cleaning can do that. Once your pet has received their annual cleaning, however, at-home measures are a great way to keep their mouths healthy until next year.

If you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s dental health, call Chisholm Trail Veterinary Clinic today to make an appointment.