February is National Dental Month, and it is the time to think about everyone's teeth, even your pets. Out of all the members of one's family, it's not difficult to guess who has the worse dental hygiene: the pets. They don't brush or floss for YEARS. If you want to know what teeth will look like without regular care, look at your pets teeth and smell its' breath. That's Periodontal Disease. "Perio" means around, and "dontal" means tooth. Periodontal disease is disease around the outside of the mouth.
85% of pets have periodontal disease by the age of three.
There is little difference between human and pet teeth. We all have nerves and blood vessels in our teeth surrounded by dentin, which is surrounded by a hard outer coating of enamel. The enamel on the teeth is bathed in saliva and is quickly covered by plaque (bacteria mixed with saliva). It is soft, and easily brushed off. If we don't reguarly remove this coating, the plaque will mineralize into tartar (also called calculus). It is the gritty material that the dental hygenist scrapes away.
Tartar, being solid, blocks oxygen from bathing the outer tooth and thus changes the nature of the bacteria that can live around tooth. The anaerobic bacteria that can survive in the oxygen poor environment are more harmful to the bone and tissues of the gum. Initially the gums become inflamed, this is called gingivitis. Because the bone around the tooth is literally eaten away by the by products of the bacteria, the periodontal ligament that holds the tooth in the socket of the jaw becomes damaged, and the gums become painful. Eventually the support structures of the tooth are destroyed to the point where the tooth is lost. If the jaw bone damage is severe enough, the jaw can actually break. Worse still, the bacteria of the mouth can seed other areas in the body leading to infection in the heart, liver, kidney or anywhere the bloodstream carries it.
Does your pet have dental disease? Signs to look for:
- Bad Breath
- Gums red and swollen, especially around the back teeth
- Yellow to brown tartar accumulation, especially on back teeth
- Chewing differently or reluctant to eat
- Broken teeth
What can you do?
Have your veterinarian perform an oral exam on your pet. If they find evidence of periodontal disease, they will want to:
- Anesthetize your pet so a more complete evaluation of the teeth can be made
- Scale away the tartar with an ultrasonic cleaner
- Polish the teeth to smooth the enamel surface
- Radiograph the teeth to identify abnormal dental conditions. X-rays show the inside of the tooth and the root that lies below the gum line. Many decisions are based on the x-ray findings
- The veterinarian will determine what procedures to perform to improve the health of the mouth. However, sometimes teeth are in such advanced stages of periodontal disease that they cannont be saved. These teeth are then extracted. Antibiotics are used to help kill unhealthy oral bacteria and pain medication dispensed to help your pet be more comfortable as it heals
- Fluoride is applied to the enamel of the teeth to strengthen them
What can you do following the dental procedure?
- If your pet is cooperative, apply pet tooth paste to it's teeth daily. Use a tooth brush or piece of gauze to gently rub plaque from the teeth.
- Some pets will not tolerate brushing, so daily use of dental wipes or mouth rinses or water additives to reduce plaque accumulation can be used instead.
- For many people, doing anything inside their pet's mouth on a regular basis is simply never going to happen. Dental treats like CET hextra can be used daily to help control tartar.
At Home Dental Care
Dogs and cats do not have to suffer the pain and discomfort of untreated broken, loose teeth, infected gums or periodontal disease. With the help of thorough veterinary examinations, regular professional dental care, and daily at-home care, your pet can keep its teeth in its mouth where they should be.