Pet Dental Care
Preventive Dental Care is one of the most neglected pet health needs. However, dental health is just as important for your pet as it is for you. While cavities do occur in both dogs and cats, periodontal (gum) disease is the most common and serious dental problem in pets.
Periodontal Disease is caused by a buildup of plaque and calculus below the gum line. Plaque, a sticky, colorless, bacteria-filled film forms continuously on teeth. Gums recede as calculus builds up, forming bacteria-filled pockets.
Bacteria infects gum tissue, the roots of teeth, and erodes bone that secures teeth. Eventually teeth fall out. Bacteria is carried throughout the body by a large network of blood vessels near gums and teeth. An accumulation of bacteria can weaken your pet’s resistance to illness and cause an infection in the heart, liver, kidneys or any organ of the body.
Warning Signs Many pets do not show outward signs of dental disease. They may show acute pain while eating and may decrease their food intake. Some pets act depressed. Other signs of dental disease include bad breath and drooling.
Teeth are normally white and smooth. Healthy gums are pink, smooth and adhere tightly to teeth. Diseased gums are thickened, reddened and bleed easily. If any warning sign is present, bring your pet to the veterinarian for a dental examination. Dental examinations are recommended every 6 months for your pet.
Treatment for most pets requires having your veterinarian scale (remove) calculus at and beneath the gum line. Polishing smooths tooth surfaces to reduce bacteria growth. Fluoride helps protect the enamel and desensitizes the teeth.
Home Care combined with regular pet dental exams and scaling and polishing as recommended by your veterinarian, will make a significant improvement in your pet’s health, longevity and happiness.
Removing Plaque before it hardens is the most important step in preventing periodontal disease. Feeding a proper diet, including dry or crunchy food, stimulates gums and helps clean exposed tooth surfaces. Brushing your pet’s teeth regularly (at least twice a week) reduces plaque and calculus buildup at and beneath the gum line.
Start Slowly by gently handling your pet’s mouth. Massage along the cheek-side of the tooth and gum line with your finger. If your pet resists, calmly stroke and reassure him or her. Try again. Make this a comfortable relaxing time for both of you.
When your pet accepts handling of its mouth, wrap cloth or gauze around your index finger to wipe plaque from cheek side tooth surfaces and gum line. After your pet is used to the cloth or gauze, you may add some pet toothpaste available from your veterinarian. Never use human toothpaste. Pets cannot spit it out and it may cause stomach upset.
After your pet accepts the cloth or gauze, start brushing with a special soft-bristle pet toothbrush available from your veterinarian. Gently hold the mouth closed with one hand. Lift the lip on one side and brush cheek-side surfaces of teeth and gum line. The entire dental care routine should take only a few minutes.
Praise your pet often and give occasional rewards for cooperation. Crunchy vegetables like baby carrots and broccoli stems are great, healthy treats that help remove plaque from your pets’ teeth.
Dog Dental Facts
- Puppies have 28 temporary teeth that erupt at about 3-4 weeks of age. They have 42 permanent teeth that begin to emerge at about 4 months.
- Symptoms of gum disease in dogs include yellow and brown build-up of tartar along the gum line, inflamed gums and persistent bad breath.
- Broken teeth are a common problem, especially among outdoor dogs. Aggressive chewing on hard objects, such as cow hooves, is a primary cause of broken teeth in dogs.
Cat Dental Facts:
- Kittens have 26 temporary teeth that begin to erupt at about 2-3 weeks of age. They have 30 permanent teeth that erupt at about 3-4 months.
- Symptoms of periodontal disease in cats include yellow and brown tartar build-up along the gum line, red inflamed gums, and persistent bad breath.
- Cats can develop painful cervical line lesions. Twenty-eight percent of domestic cats develop at least one of these painful lesions during their lifetime.
Chew on These Facts:
- Oral disease is the most frequently diagnosed health problem for pets.
- 80% of dogs and 70% of cats show signs of oral disease by age 3, according to the American Veterinary Dental Society.
- Periodontal disease is more common in smaller breeds of dogs and certain breeds of cats. Periodontal disease is more common as pets grow older.
- Oral disease begins in the mouth with a build-up of bacteria in the pet’s mouth. Bacteria combined with saliva and food debris between the tooth and gum create plaque. As bacteria grow in the plaque and as calcium salts are deposited, plaque turns to tartar. If tartar is not removed from the teeth, pockets may appear along the gumline and further separate the teeth from the gum, which allows more food and bacteria to accumulate.
- Without proper treatment, this plaque and tartar build-up may cause periodontal disease, which affects the tissue and structures supporting the teeth. Periodontitis is irreversible and may lead to other health problems. This disease causes red, swollen and tender gums, receding gums, bleeding, pain, and bad breath. If left untreated, periodontitis can lead to tooth loss. The infection caused by periodontal disease may enter the bloodstream, potentially infecting the heart, liver, and kidneys.
- Pet owners should look for warning signs of oral disease. Common indications of oral disease include bad breath, yellow-brown film on teeth, bleeding gums, going to the food bowl but not eating, change of chewing or eating habits, tooth loss, subdued behavior, depression, abnormal drooling, pawing at the face or mouth, dropping food out of mouth, or swallowing food whole. If any of these signs are present, the pet should be taken to the veterinarian for a dental exam.
- Owners can prevent oral disease. The first step is a routine physical examination including a dental exam, at least twice a year. Pet owners should practice a regular dental care regimen at home, including brushing the pet’s teeth with pet toothpaste. Toothpaste for humans should not be used because it can upset pets’ stomachs. Schedule regular follow-up care with your veterinarian and ask about specially formulated foods with proven benefits in plaque and tartar removal.