Our pets need dental care too
Dental care is very important for human health, and the same thing applies to a pet’s overall health. Dental disease is one of the most common medical conditions seen by veterinarians. Over 80% of dogs and cats over the age of three have dental disease. Few dogs show obvious signs of dental disease, so it is up to the dog’s family and veterinarian to uncover this hidden and often painful condition. The most common problems are due to gingivitis (inflammation of the gum caused by plaque accumulation), periodontal disease, and tooth resorption (seen in cats).
Periodontal disease is a term used to describe inflammation or infection of the tissue surrounding the tooth. Periodontal disease occurs when the accumulation of plaque and tartar causes pockets to form around the teeth or recession around the tooth’s attachment. If this is left untreated, the infection often spreads deeper into the tooth socket, destroying the bone. Ultimately, the tooth becomes loose and may fall out over time.
The mouth is home to thousands of bacteria, far from a clean environment. As the bacteria multiple on the tooth’s surface, they from an invisible layer called plaque or biofilm. If allowed to remain on the tooth’s surface, plaque thickens, becomes mineralized and creates tartar. The tartar accumulates above and below the gum line leading to inflammation, gingivitis.
Plaque formation can be prevented through daily brushing using canine/ feline toothpaste that is specifically designed to be swallowed. Unfortunately, even though it is the best form of plaque control, many pet owners are not able to brush their pet’s teeth daily. Special dog/ cat chews and treats may also help reduce or delay plaque and tartar buildup. Some pet foods have been specifically formulated as dental diets that mechanically and/ or chemically assist in plaque removal. Drinking-water additives are also available.
A routine dental cleaning is often the only way to address severe dental tartar/ plaque accumulation. It involves a thorough oral examination, including radiographs of each tooth. Following that, a thorough dental scaling and polishing is performed to remove the additional bacterial population. A veterinarian performs this such procedure after thorough examination, blood collection and analysis. Early stages of periodontal disease can be reversed with dental cleanings; however, advanced stages can only be managed. Advanced stages include when there is severe bone loss/decay from the infection. When this occurs, often the best thing is to remove the affected teeth. Leaving such teeth behind can cause even worse bone loss to the severity that a jaw may actually break.
The month of February is Pet Dental Awareness Month, and with that, many veterinary hospitals offer promotions on examinations, blood testing, or even the complete dental procedure. It is important to understand that in order to do the best possible job this procedure should be performed under general anesthesia and include X-rays of each tooth. There is no way to fully assess the integrity of a tooth without X-rays. If X-rays are not performed your pet is at risk of continued infection, as the cleaning is just a temporary band-aid.