Healthy Mouth = Healthier Life

Each year, February is designated as Pet Dental Health month. Various organizations, such as the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), and the American Veterinary Dental Society, promote pet dental health awareness campaigns. February isn’t the only time to think about good oral health though. Keeping your pet’s teeth and gums in good shape has many health benefits in addition to the sparkling fresh breath. Now is the time to schedule that checkup for your pet to ensure the best dental health possible.

What can happen if my pet’s teeth aren’t cleaned?

Both plaque and tartar damage the teeth and gums. Disease starts with the gums (gingiva). They become inflamed – red, swollen, infected and sore. The gums finally separate from the tooth surface, creating pockets where more bacteria, plaque, and tartar build up. This leads to more damage, and ultimately tooth and bone loss.

Dental disease effects the whole body, too. Bacteria from these inflamed oral areas can enter the bloodstream and affect major body organs. The liver, kidneys, heart, and lungs are most commonly affected. Antibiotics are used prior to and after a dental cleaning to prevent bacterial spread through the blood stream.

But my pet is only 3 years old! Isn’t this an “old dog/cat disease”?

No – dental disease is NOT just a senior pet problem. From the Pets Need Dental Care, Too web site:

“Without proper dental care, 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats show signs of oral disease by age three.”

What actually causes the bad breath when tooth/gum disease is present?

Bad breath, medically known as “halitosis”, results from the bacterial infection of the gums (gingiva) and supporting tissues seen with periodontal disease (periodontal = occurring around a tooth).

What is the difference between plaque and tartar?

Plaque is a colony of bacteria, mixed with saliva, blood cell, and other bacterial components. Plaque often leads to tooth and gum disease. Dental tartar, or calculus, occurs when plaque becomes mineralized (hard) and firmly adheres to the tooth enamel and then erodes the gingival tissue.

Just like your teeth, periodontal disease starts with a film or slime over the teeth, followed by the gradual build-up of bacterial laden yellow, brown, and black tartars. Left untreated, this condition causes redness and swelling in the gums, increasingly foul mouth odors, and eventually this infection can negatively affect the vital organs like liver, lungs, kidneys, and even your pet’s heart. Ultimately, the life of your pet can be shortened, all because of persistent yet preventable dental problems.

Don’t wait until your pet stops eating or the smell from your pet’s mouth is unbearable before you have a veterinary exam. Minimally, oral health exams should be done once a year but as with your own teeth, six months is optimal. Pets with a predisposition to accumulate tartar, especially small breed dogs, should be checked more often; say every 4-6 months.

It is extremely important to have your pets teeth cleaned regularly to remove the hazardous accumulations before they have a chance to build up and create damage and disease.

Unfortunately, there is a growing trend to offer “anesthesia free dentistry” by untrained people at grooming parlors and pet food stores. It is not possible to do a complete oral exam let alone a thorough cleaning without anesthesia. Each surface of each tooth and all areas of the gums need to be examined.

Periodontal disease is the most common disease that pets develop. It is estimated that 80 to 85% of dogs and cats have some degree of infection. It is not just a cosmetic problem; chronic infection shortens their life because of effects on other organs, especially the heart, kidneys, and liver, not to mention the pain that goes along with loose, diseased teeth.

Veterinary dental cleanings are very different for pets than they are for you. Anesthesia is required to keep your pet still and comfortable during a cleaning. Your pet needs to have a complete physical examination prior to a cleaning, in order to detect any underlying metabolic issues that could complicate the use of anesthesia.

During a cleaning, the trained veterinary nurse uses a hand scaler to remove tartar and plaque from your pet’s teeth. Next, a periodontal probe is used to check under the gum line for signs of periodontal disease as well as tartar on the root surface. An ultrasonic scaler is used to clean the teeth above the gum line, and a curette is used to clean and smooth the teeth below the gum line. Finally, your pet’s teeth are polished and the gums are washed with an anti-bacterial solution to help prevent future tartar build-up. In our practice we also apply a sealant to the surface of the teeth. This prevents bacteria and plaque from sticking and causing disease.

Here’s why you shouldn’t consider “anesthesia free dentistry”.

In “anesthesia free dentistry” the dogs are just held down and the teeth are scraped with a metal tool to clean tartar off the crowns, or exposed surface of the teeth. One problem is that the crowns are only about 2% of the problem. Pathology takes place under the gums and this is where veterinarians concentrate their treatment. Cleaning the crowns is just a cosmetic treatment; it does nothing to improve the health of the pet. Dogs are stressed with “anesthesia free” dentistry. They have to be held firmly to try to reduce movement. Think how hard it is to get them to hold still just to brush their teeth. Hand scaling uses sharp metal instruments. Even a slight movement can cause injury to teeth, gums, lips, even the eyes. Also, as the dog is struggling, it can aspirate pieces of tartar as it is removed. Additionally, many dogs struggle so much that they strain their backs and legs. They can be very sore or lame afterward, requiring veterinary care and treatment.

Hand scaling with metal instruments also etches the enamel of the teeth. Veterinarians can use power instruments which cause less etching, and are able to use a lighter touch with hand instruments on the enamel because the pet is not moving. The teeth are then polished to smooth the enamel. With the “anesthesia free” procedure, deeper grooves are made in the enamel of the teeth, which enables the tartar to attach and accumulate even faster.

When your pet has an “anesthesia free” procedure, it gives you a false sense of security and delays the treatment your pet really needs. When a veterinarian evaluates the pet under anesthesia it is not unusual to find abscessed or fractured teeth that would not detect by just by looking in the mouth and scraping off tartar in a conscious patient.

Be advised, any person advertising “gentle dentals” for your pet or to clean your pet’s teeth in your home or at a grooming parlor, and does so without direct supervision by a licensed California Veterinarian is doing so illegally and you should immediately report them to The California Veterinary Medical Board in Sacramento at (916) 263-2610.

Proper dental care can extend your pet’s life as much as 3-5 years. You brush your teeth twice a day and visit the dentist at least once a year – but does your pet have the same sort of dental care regimen? Clean teeth and a healthy mouth are extremely important for your pet. Plaque and tartar build-up on your pet’s teeth can lead to serious health problems and this makes dental care crucial for your furry friend.

As plaque builds up on your pet’s teeth, it hardens into tartar and damages the teeth and gums. This results in the disease known as gingivitis. Signs of gingivitis include bad breath and reddened gums. If left untreated, gingivitis can cause periodontal disease, a serious infection that can damage the teeth and gums and lead to health problems elsewhere in your pet’s body. If your pet is exhibiting any of the following symptoms, he or she may have periodontal disease:

  • Discomfort while chewing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Inflamed or bleeding gums
  • Bad breath

Keeping your pet’s teeth clean is a year-round process. Our staff members can show you how to brush your pet’s teeth at home, in addition to applying a weekly sealant. This helps delay the build-up of plaque and tartar and is a great way for you to contribute to your pet’s good health and longer life. Remember there is more at stake than just clean teeth.

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