Our pets are living longer now than in the past. Today, we have better preventive medicine (e.g., vaccinations) 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 dogs and cats
Tartar: 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 48 hours after it forms. Tartar is irritating to the gums and causes inflammation, called gingivitis. This can be seen as reddening of the gums adjacent to the teeth. It also causes bad breath. Once tartar appears, it is best to have a professional cleaning done by your veterinarian, who will use special instruments to remove the plaque and then polish the teeth to make it more difficult for plaque to adhere to them.
Periodontal disease: If 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 (endocarditis), liver, and kidneys. If treated by your veterinarian with special instruments and procedures, periodontal disease can be slowed or stopped.
What is included in a good dental care program?
1.) Oral exams by your veterinarian: A thorough dental exam can identify potential problems such as plaque and tartar buildup, gingivitis, periodontal disease, and fractured or abscessed teeth. During an oral exam your veterinarian will:
2.) Dental cleaning by your veterinarian: To prevent dental disease, your pet needs routine dental care at home. To perform good home care, you need to start with clean teeth. Brushing will remove plaque but not tartar. So if your pet's teeth have tartar, it is necessary for your veterinarian to remove it and polish the teeth. This professional veterinary dental cleaning is also called a prophylaxis or "prophy." A routine dental cleaning consists of:
3.) Daily home oral care: Home oral care includes routine examinations of your pet's mouth and brushing her teeth.
Home oral exam - As you care for your pet'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. You should also watch for discolored, fractured, or missing teeth. Any bumps or masses within the mouth should also be checked by your veterinarian.
Daily brushing - Regular brushing of your pet's teeth is a very important preventive for oral and other diseases. A step-by-step procedure for providing this care is found in our articles:
Mechanical removal of plaque - For dogs, mechanical removal of plaque can also be accomplished by using toys such as Nylabone Dental Chews or Quado Bones Dog Treats. Do not use toys that are abrasive and can wear down the teeth. If your dog is an aggressive chewer and likes to bite down, trying to crack the toy, you probably should not let the dog chew on that toy. For especially aggressive chewers, look for toys they cannot get their mouths around. Rawhide or other chews that soften as the dog chews are another option.
What is ahead in the future?