Does your pet have bad breath? Discolored teeth? Visible tartar or plaque on the surface of his/her teeth? Drooling? Pain? Gingival bleeding? Note that most dogs and cats have no clinical signs of dental disease. However chronic dental disease can result in bacteria from the mouth entering the blood stream. This can result in liver, heart, lung, kidney, and other organ damage. As much as 80% of dogs and cats over 2 years of age have some form of dental disease.
Dental disease begins as soft plaque containing bacteria builds up on enamel and between teeth resulting in gingival inflammation. This also occurs in humans especially after we eat and is why we brush our teeth regularly. The plaque calcifies to tartar, causing an irregular surface on normally smooth enamel, creating an environment for more plaque to build up and this becomes a vicious cycle. The buildup of plaque, tartar, and bacteria reaches under the gumline to the connective tissues (ligament and bone holding the tooth in place) and causes periodontal disease. This leads to gingivitis, abscesses, tooth loss, and bad breath.
Good news- this is a preventable disease! The most effective method involves brushing your pets’ teeth daily. This will significantly slow the progression of the buildup of tartar, plaque, bacteria and ultimately periodontal disease. You will need a tooth brush (human soft), a finger brush, or something with a slightly abrasive surface such as a washcloth or gauze square and an enzymatic pet toothpaste. Most are flavored and can be safely swallowed. Do not use human toothpastes, most contain foaming agents that should not be swallowed. Start by using the paste as a treat and getting your pet comfortable with your finger in his/her mouth. Over time add a brush for 10-30 seconds. Then brush with the toothpaste and increase time to 30-60 seconds focusing on the outside of the teeth. It is not necessary to brush the occlusal or inner surface of the teeth, less plaque and tartar build up there. Offer praise and treats after the brushing. If a fun routine can be established most pets look forward to brushing and the taste of the paste and the reward after. Brushing however, does not replace a thorough oral exam under anesthesia to allow subgingival cleaning and pocket charting. It may however decrease the frequency of these procedures and help maintain a healthy mouth for the life of your beloved furry family friend. In addition to brushing there are multiple dental treats, toys, supplements, and foods that have been proven to help prevent dental disease. Please visit the veterinary oral health counsel website (VOHC.org) for approved products and recommendations. We encourage all pet owners to take an active role in their pet’s dental health.