WANE has partnered with Waynedale Animal Clinic to bring you this valuable pet advice.
February is National Pet Dental Health Month and veterinary hospitals across the nation will be putting extra effort into promoting the importance of dental health for dogs and cats. This is an important topic, and one that is often overlooked by pet owners.
Most of the clients that we see seem to understand the importance of many of the components of a good preventative healthcare program for their pets (e.g., yearly examinations by their veterinarian, vaccinations, and parasite control). However, the importance of dental health has not yet gained the same recognition. This article provides a brief overview of the importance of dental health for your pets, some of the common signs of dental disease, and the components of both professional and home dental care.
The Importance of Dental Health:
All pets will develop some degree of dental disease during their life. In fact, dental disease is the most common health problem diagnosed in pets. According to the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS), approximately 70% of cats and 80% of dogs will show some sign of dental disease by the time they reach 3 years of age.
Most cases of dental disease start with the accumulation of bacteria-containing plaque and tartar on the animal's teeth. Over time, the disease will progress, often leading to severe gum disease, oral abscesses, and tooth loss. There is also evidence that poor dental health may contribute to disease in other organs, such as the heart, liver, and kidneys. Therefore, good dental health is truly a critical component of keeping your pet healthy and happy.
Signs of Dental Disease:
Some of the most common signs of dental disease in pets include:
- Halitosis (bad breath)
- Visible plaque and tartar accumulation on the teeth
- Red and inflamed gums
- Pain and/or bleeding when the gums are touched
- Loose or missing teeth
- Difficulty or pain when eating
Components of a Professional Dental Cleaning:
When a pet has been diagnosed with dental disease caused by plaque and tartar accumulation on their teeth, the next step is a professional dental cleaning performed at your veterinarian's office. Such a procedure must be performed with the pet under general anesthesia so that the cleaning can be both effective and safe for the pet. The basic steps of a professional dental cleaning include the following:
- Tooth Scaling: plaque and tartar are removed from the teeth, both above and below the gum line, using both ultrasonic and hand instruments
- Tooth Polishing: polishing helps remove small pieces of plaque and smoothes the enamel (the outer layer of the tooth), which helps to slow down future plaque and tartar accumulation
- Fluoride: fluoride has antibacterial effects, promotes enamel health, and also helps to decrease plaque and tartar accumulation on the teeth
- Dental Charting: veterinarians keep detailed dental records, which help them to monitor for progression of disease in the future; the severity of the dental disease and whether any teeth are missing or were extracted is recorded for each patient
- Other: additional procedures such as dental x-rays, tooth extractions, and advanced dentistry may also be indicated in some patients
Expand the above photo to better see pictures of a dog's mouth before (left) and after (right) a professional dental cleaning. Notice the accumulated plaque and tartar on the teeth in the before picture.
Dental Care at Home:
Although periodic professional veterinary dental cleanings are very important to your pet's dental health, there are also several things that you can do at home to fight dental disease. At home dental care might include regular teeth brushing with toothpaste designed for animals (not always the easiest task to perform, but most pets can be trained to tolerate it), water additives that kill bacteria and help to decrease plaque and tartar accumulation, diets designed for dental health, and dental bones and chews that help mechanically remove accumulated tartar. Talk with your veterinarian about what products and practices they recommend for your pet.
Finally, one of the most important things that you can do for your pet is to regularly lift up their lip and examine their teeth and gums for any signs of disease (if your pet will allow it). If you have any questions or concerns about what you see, don't hesitate to contact your veterinarian. Also, scheduling regular veterinary checkups can result in the detection of early or mild dental disease, which allows for any problems to be addressed before they become severe.
The old adage that the best treatment is prevention is indeed true when it comes to your pet's dental health, so be proactive in both the detection and treatment of dental disease and keep your pets smiling.
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