February is National Pet Dental Health Month, so I figured it’s a good time for a review of the importance of dental care for your pet. Dental disease is one of the most common diseases of both dogs and cats. More than two-thirds of dogs and cats over the age of three have some form of periodontal disease (dental disease). Signs of periodontal disease include plaque and tartar build-up, gingivitis, receding gums, and loosening of teeth. This is a painful process, but most animals will show minimal symptoms. It is up to pet owners and their veterinarian to recognize and treat dental disease.
Periodontal disease begins with bacteria in the mouth mixing with proteins in the saliva and forming a sticky film called plaque. Plaque adheres to the surface of the teeth and then mineralizes to form calculus or tartar. The presence of plaque and tartar cause an inflammatory response from the gingival tissue, or gum tissue. The bacteria invade the gingival tissue and eventually the ligament and bone that hold the teeth in place. This loss of periodontal attachment leads to loose teeth. At some point the process is irreversible and the teeth cannot be saved.
There are several things pet owners can do at home to improve their pet’s dental health. Brushing pet’s teeth is the gold standard of home care. There are toothpaste products made for dogs and cats, you should not use human toothpaste. Ideally, brushing should be done daily, but at least three times a week. Not all pets will cooperate with brushing but many will and it is the best home dental care you can provide.
There are also rinses, gels, and water additives that help decrease the bacteria in the mouth that cause periodontal disease. Products with Chlorhexidine gluconate provide the best antimicrobial action. There are also chews available (C.E.T. Hextra Chews) with Chlorhexidine in them that are helpful, and fun for pets. For dogs, dry food is better for their teeth than canned food. But brushing, or using the products mentioned above, is better than relying on dry food alone to maintain dental health.
In addition to home care, regular dental cleanings by a veterinarian are essential to good dental health. Dental prophylaxis (cleaning) is done under general anesthesia. Plaque and tartar are removed above and below the gumline with hand and ultrasonic scalers. The teeth are polished, and products such as fluoride or wax sealants may also be applied. Dental radiographs may be recommended as well. In terms of anesthesia, underlying disease, more than age, affects anesthetic risk. Pre-anesthetic bloodwork helps to screen for kidney disease, liver disease, infection, anemia, and a variety of other problems. An intravenous (IV) catheter and fluids during anesthesia help maintain blood pressure, organ perfusion, and hydration. The IV catheter also allows for access to the vein in the event of an emergency.
Talk to your veterinarian about proper dental care for your pet. Good dental health is very important to your pet’s overall health and happiness. Many veterinary clinics participate in Pet Dental Month by offering discounts on dental cleanings for your pet during the month of February. You can also visit the websites listed below for more information on dental care.