Dental Care

More and more pet owners are realizing the importance of good oral health for their pets. Why should our pet's teeth and their care be any different from our own oral hygiene needs? Did you know that periodontal disease is the number one disease that affects our pets?! Just like in people, the accumulation of plaque on the teeth leads to gingivitis (swollen and inflamed gums). Bad breath and bleeding/red gums are the most consistent signs that the pet owner notices. We can reverse this damage with a proper dental cleaning if the disease is caught early enough. Unchecked dental disease will cause progressive decay of the tooth and its supporting structures until the tooth must be removed.

Dental Problems of the Immature Animal

 Puppies and kittens are born with "baby teeth" which are usually in place by 6-8 weeks and which, by 4-6 months of age are replaced by the adult teeth. In this age group, we see two types of dental problems occurring: traumatic damage to the baby teeth and improper eruption of the adult teeth. The baby teeth are very thin and fragile and are not firmly anchored in place like the adult teeth will be. They are easily broken or pulled out of position. For this reason, we should avoid giving puppies hard objects to chew on and playing tug of war with them. By pulling, we can either fracture or pull the baby teeth out of position.

Another common problem we see in puppies and kittens are adult teeth which erupt improperly. This condition is either due to previous trauma, or to the presence of persistent baby teeth that have not fallen out within the proper amount of time. Normally, as the permanent tooth erupts, it does so directly under the root of the baby tooth causing it to breakdown. This allows the adult tooth to push it out. Sometimes, the bud of the permanent tooth is not directly positioned under the baby tooth and it erupts (breaks through the gums) abnormally. The ensuing malpositioned adult tooth traumatizes the soft tissue in the mouth, causing the pet pain and possibly infection. By checking your pet's mouth regularly, any presence of double teeth will be detected and can be immediately extracted by a veterinarian.

Periodontal Disease

One of the easiest things you can do to check for dental disease is to look in your pet's mouth regularly. Pay close attention to the molars (the teeth in the very back of your pet's mouth) because this is where the most tartar and plaque will form. Periodontal disease is not something that happens overnight - it is insidious and builds up slowly. It affects not only the teeth, but also the gums, ligaments and bone that hold the tooth in place. Healthy teeth will be clean and white, although with age the teeth can become stained yellow or brown. Mild tartar accumulation is acceptable, but any amount of gingivitis means that it is time to have a professional

dental cleaning performed. To assess your pet's mouth for gingivitis, look for inflammation at the gumline, just above the tooth - it will look like a pink line that follows the teeth along the top. If gingivitis is present, there is sufficient plaque and bacteria up under the gums to cause infection and tooth decay. This is the point where we recommend having your pet's teeth professionally scaled and polished.

Signs of periodontal disease include: bad breath, loss of appetite, difficulty or reluctance to eat, weight loss, yellow/brown tarter on teeth, reddened or bleeding gums, fractured teeth, facial swelling below the eye, and drooling. Dental disease is painful, and it affects nearly 80% of all pets! Bone infection around the tooth roots can spread to vital organs like the heart, liver, kidneys and digestive tract. The infection subsequently causes illness and organ damage, decreasing the pet's quality of life and shortening their life span. Dental care eliminates the pain, infection and complications caused by dental disease.

Professional Cleaning and Polishing

We clean your pet's teeth in much the same manner as your own dentist cleans your teeth. Usually we will prescribe prophylactic antibiotics to be started several days prior to the dental cleaning. This is to decrease the number of bacteria within the oral cavity prior to disrupting them during the cleaning. By having antibiotics within their system already before we clean their teeth, we help to protect them from systemic infection. The primary difference in their dental cleaning is that, unfortunately, dogs and cats will not allow us to clean their teeth while they are awake. This necessitates a short period of general anesthesia (usually less than 30 minutes). After anesthetizing them, we do a comprehensive examination of all of their teeth, assessing for any pockets of infection and determining if there are any teeth which need to be extracted. Remember, diseased teeth are more of a hindrance than a help and if not removed will likely cause your pet more pain in the future. We then use an ultrasonic scaler to clean the tartar from their teeth. Our goal is to go up underneath the gumline to clean off all of the tartar and decay-causing bacteria. Once this is accomplished, we use a high speed polisher to smooth the surfaces of the tooth, making it more difficult for tartar to accumulate on it in the future.

Prevention of Dental Disease

Most animals, at some point in their life, will require a professional dental cleaning. However, there are steps that you can take to slow the progression of dental disease and the buildup of tartar. It may sound crazy, but brushing your pet's teeth regularly can make a significant difference in the number of professional cleanings that they require. Feeding a good quality, dry dog or cat food is also better for their teeth as it helps to scrape plaque away.

To begin a tooth brushing program, start first by simply massaging your pet's muzzle with your fingers. When their is no resistance to having their face rubbed, lift up their lips and rub their teeth. One can put the toothpaste initially on the fingers so that your pet can acclimate to the taste. (Be sure to always use a dog/cat toothpaste - human toothpaste is not meant to be swallowed and can be toxic for them.) Once you are ready to use a toothbrush, consider the size of your pet's mouth. For medium to large sized dogs, a child's tooth brush works well. For small dogs and cats, either a finger toothbrush or a special "cat" toothbrush available at your veterinary hospital will make it easier to work in the small spaces of their mouth. Put a small amount of the toothpaste on the brush, gently lift the lip and brush the teeth from side to side. 80% of all the plaque forms on the outside surfaces of the teeth, and so it is not necessary to brush the inside surfaces. As the most severe dental disease develops in the back teeth, concentrate your efforts there first, moving forward as you go. Ideally, you will brush your pet's teeth daily or every other day. If this is not possible, brushing several times a week is the next best thing. Taking an active role in your pet's dental care will help reduce dental disease, bad breath, and life threatening heart and kidney disease. Everyone wins!