Our cats and dogs are living longer now than in the past. Today, we have better preventive medicine and better ways to diagnose and treat many diseases. Now we are seeing more animals whose most severe medical problems are dental problems. To prevent oral disease, which is the number one health problem diagnosed in pets, it is essential to provide our pets with good dental care, both professionally and at home.
Dental disease in cats and dogs
Cats and Dogs rarely get cavities, but are much more prone to gum disease and excess tartar build-up on the teeth. Food particles and bacteria collect along the gumline forming plaque. Routine home care can remove this plaque.
If plaque is not removed, minerals in the saliva combine with the plaque and form tartar (or calculus) which adheres strongly to the teeth. Plaque starts to mineralize 3-5 days after it forms. The tartar is irritating to the gums and causes an inflammation called gingivitis. This can be seen as reddening of the gums adjacent to the teeth. It also causes bad breath. At this point it is necessary to remove the tartar with special instruments called scalers, and then polish the teeth.
If the tartar is not removed, it builds up under the gums. It separates the gums from the teeth to form “pockets” and encourages even more bacterial growth. At this point the damage is irreversible, and called “periodontal” disease. It can be very painful and can lead to loose teeth, abscesses, and bone loss or infection. As bacterial growth continues to increase, the bacteria may enter the bloodstream. This can cause infection of the heart valves, liver, and kidneys. If treated with instruments periodontal disease can be slowed or stopped.
A good dental care program includes:
- Regular visits to your veterinarian, which include an oral exam
- Veterinary dental cleaning as advised
- Daily home dental care
Oral Exams by Veterinarian: A thorough dental exam can identify potential problems such as plaque and tartar build-up, gingivitis, periodontal disease, and fractured or abscessed teeth.
During an oral exam your veterinarian will:
- Examine the animal’s face and head for asymmetry, swelling, or discharges.
- Examine the outside surfaces of teeth and gums, and the “bite”.
- Open the mouth to examine the inner surfaces of the teeth and gums and the tongue, palates, oral mucosa, tonsils, and ventral tongue area.
- Palpate and assess the size, shape, and consistency of the salivary glands and the lymph nodes in the neck.
To prevent dental disease dog needs routine dental care at home. But to perform good home care, you need to start with clean teeth. Brushing will remove plaque but not tartar. So if dog’s teeth have tartar, it is necessary to remove it.
Daily Home Oral Care:
Home oral care includes routine examinations of your dog’s mouth and brushing her teeth. As you care for dog’s mouth, look for warning signs of gum disease such as bad breath, red and swollen gums, a yellow-brown crust of tartar around the gumline, and pain or bleeding when you touch the gums or mouth. It should also watch for discolored, fractured, or missing teeth. Any bumps or masses within the mouth should also be checked by your veterinarian.
Veterinary dentistry is becoming more common and more sophisticated. Pets can have the same procedures as people: root canals, crowns, and even braces. Some veterinarians specialize in dentistry and are board-certified. New products are continually becoming available to help veterinarians and owners provide the best possible oral care for pets. February of each year is designated as Pet Dental Health Month as a way to remind owners of the importance of proper dental care. Make sure good dental care is part of your pet’s present and future!