Thanks to regular vaccinations and other preventative health measures, pets are living much longer than in the past. With longer life many veterinarians are seeing an uptick in dental disease. It’s estimated that up to 80% of pets have some form of oral disease. See how you can help prevent the onset of dental issues in pets young and old.
Why dental health is important.
Dental care for dogs and cats is one of the most commonly overlooked areas of pet health. Recent studies show that approximately 2/3 of pet owners fail to provide the level of dental care recommended by veterinarians.
Dental disease can lead to more serious health problems including heart, lung, and kidney disease, as well as bacterial infection. It’s important to take steps at home and with your veterinarian to keep doggie breath from becoming a life threatening illness.
Dental Disease in Pets.
There are several stages to dental disease.
Plaque. Dogs rarely get cavities, but are prone to plaque buildup and gum disease. Plaque happens when food particles and bacteria collect along the gum line. Routine home care and proper chewing items can remove this plaque buildup.
Tartar. Minerals in saliva combines with plaque to form tartar which adheres strongly to teeth. Plaque starts to mineralize into tartar three to five days after it forms. If not removed, it can irritate gums. This inflammation is called gingivitis. At this point it’s best to remove the tartar with a professional instrument called a scaler.
Periodontal Disease. Tarter buildup on the teeth and even under the gum line causes the gums to separate from the teeth. This forms pockets of bacterial growth and irreversible damage called periodontal disease. It can be very painful and lead to loose teeth, abscesses and bone loss or infection. Unchecked, the bacteria may enter the bloodstream that can cause infection of the heart valves (endocarditis), liver, and kidneys. At this stage veterinary intervention is necessary. While damage can not be reversed, progression can be slowed or stopped.
What to include in a good Dental Care Program.
Daily Home Dental Care.
Home Oral Exam. Look for warning signs of gum disease like bad breath, red and swollen gums, brown tartar along the gum line and pain or bleeding. Also check for discolored, fractured or missing teeth. Any bumps or masses in the mouth should be checked by your veterinarian.
Daily Brushing. Plaque hardens into tartar within 3-5 days. If you’re only brushing once a week, tartar has already started to permanently adhere to your pet’s teeth.
Mechanical Removal of Plaque. Provide plenty of healthy chews. This mechanical chewing action helps clean teeth like brushing. Appropriate chewing items include bully sticks, raw frozen bones, dental health chews, healthy rawhide alternatives, Nyla bones, and hard rubber chew toys.
Food and Water Additives. Chlorophyll, kelp, and green tea-based options help keep tartar from adhering to teeth and freshen breath.
Veterinary Dental Care.
Regular visits to your veterinarian are important to monitor dental health. If signs of disease are present, your vet may recommend a professional dental cleaning.
This may include:
- Removal of any broken or diseased teeth
- Antibacterial solution
- Cleaning with ultrasonic scalers above and below the gum line
- Polishing the teeth to remove microscopic scratches
How to Brush Your Pet’s Teeth.
- Get your pet used to the taste of the toothpaste. A poultry or sweet-tasting toothpaste might get them interested. Remember, no people toothpaste! At first, let your pet lick a tiny bit off your finger so he realizes toothpaste = treat.
- Get your pet comfortable with having something placed in his mouth. Put a small amount on your finger and gently rub on some of the easy to reach front teeth.
- Next get your pet used to the feeling of a toothbrush. Apply some of the toothpaste to the brush and let them lick it off to get the feel of the bristles.
- Now start brushing! Start slowly and just try a few teeth at a time. Work your way up to brushing their entire mouth.
Pet Brushing Tips.
Start Early – Get your pet used to the feeling of having their teeth brushed. But it’s never too late to start – an older pet may need a professional cleaning to start, but regular at home care can still be a huge benefit.
Use the Right Tools – Try a finger toothbrush or a softer pet toothbrush. Be sure to use an enzymatic pet toothpaste that helps to dissolve plaque on contact. Remember, the fluoride and foaming agents in human toothpaste can be harmful to pets if swallowed.
Brush Often – The real benefit of tooth brushing comes from the mechanical action of the brush scraping the tartar from the teeth.