Healthy Mouth? Healthy Pet!
Well, a healthy mouth might not be the only thing your pet needs to be healthy, but one thing is certain: an Unhealthy Mouth means an Unhealthy Pet.
Why do pets need dental Care? The idea of pets needing to have dental care is not exactly obvious to everyone. After all, our pets are eating just fine; what could be the problem? Hint: by the time our dog gets “gross dog breath” and our cat gets “stinky cat breath” the problem is already, well, a problem.
Pets need dental care for the same reasons we do. “The exact process that results in periodontal disease in humans affects our pets,” says Brett Beckman, DVM, FAVD, DAVDC, DAAPM, a veterinary dentist practicing in Florida and Georgia.
It starts with plaque, the slimy but invisible layer of saliva, food particles, and cells from the inside of the cheeks. Bacteria love plaque. When plaque is not removed, bacteria set up residence in every microscopic nook and cranny in the mouth, and there are many! The presence of bacteria equals infection. Bacteria cause all kinds of problems in the mouth, like inflammation, tooth abscesses, decay, bad odor, and the bacteria’s secret weapon is tartar. Tartar (also called “calculus”) is that brown/yellow/grey material that is about the consistency of concrete that sticks to the teeth and refuses to come off, even with brushing.
Think of it this way: The bacteria make the glue that sticks garbage to the teeth.
The problems with stuff sticking to the teeth are many: It hurts the gums. It smells bad. It hides bacteria. Believe it or not, some dogs and cats are even allergic to it. The bottom line is that tartar causes inflammation and inflammation can kill gums, bone, and teeth.
Did you know that periodontal disease (also called gum disease) occurs five times as often in pets as it does in people? In fact, more than 80% of dogs over 3 years old have some level of periodontal disease.
Plaque, infection, tartar, and periodontal disease all add up to one thing: Pain! Sometimes the pain is a low-level, nagging chronic pain; sometimes it is a sharp, sudden, acute pain. But in most cases we humans don’t notice that our pet is in pain. For reasons research has not yet explained, cats and dogs will live with and tolerate levels of pain beyond our understanding. But as most pet families agree, just because they can live with pain doesn’t mean that they should.
Cats are Special One particularly painful dental problem is virtually unique to cats. While our feline friends do get all of the same oral problems as their canine cousins, cats also are susceptible to a condition abbreviated as FORLs. This stands for Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesions. What?? Odontoclasts are a type of cell that eats the material that teeth are made of. Odonotclasts have a legitimate job to do most of the time, but sometimes they malfunction. In cats, for reasons not well understood, odontoclasts sometimes cause the tooth enamel to be re-absorbed, exposing the tooth nerves which as we all know is terribly painful. Loss of enamel also weakens the tooth, sometimes resulting in the tooth breaking off, compounding the pain!
The Whole Pet and Nothing But The (Whole) Pet One might think that a problem in a pet’s mouth is less serious than a problem somewhere else in the pet, such as a kidney infection or a heart murmur. But is it really? In fact, illnesses in areas that seem far away from the mouth, at least from an anatomic standpoint, have actually been caused by the problem in the mouth. Remember that the roots of the teeth are directly exposed to the blood stream. With every beat of the heart (around 80 to 120 times a minute on average!) bacteria which have found their way to the tooth roots or gum tissue try to enter the blood stream. Once there, these bacteria and all the bad news they bring, are swept to the farthest reaches of the entire body, including places they love to take up residence such as the heart valves, joint spaces, kidney tissues, and pancreas, just to name a few.
What’s a Pet Family To Do?
First, we believe in preventive care, starting when your pet is young. The main reason pets get gum disease so often is because most don’t have their teeth brushed daily. Surprisingly, when approached with patience and gentleness, most dogs (and cats), even older ones, can be persuaded to allow regular brushings.
Yet statistics show that less than 1% of pet owners commit to brushing their pet’s teeth regularly. We understand. The world is not a perfect place, and there are many reasons why pets may not get regular dental care at home.
Remember the Wellness Exam? When your pet comes to Country Care Pet Hospital, one of the many aspects of its examination is the oral exam. We look for discoloration of teeth or gums, broken or missing teeth, lumps or bumps of the gums, cheeks, or tongue, tartar, tooth root exposure, bleeding, and odor. But what about periodontal disease? Much periodontal disease and, in fact diseases of the jaw bones and tooth roots hide below the surface.
That’s why, in some cases, the recommendation is for a full exam and cleaning to be done under general anesthesia. It’s then that the veterinarian can check your pet’s mouth for periodontal pockets around the teeth, check all surfaces of the teeth (42 teeth in dogs, 30 teeth in cats, did you know that?) and perform X-rays, which are vital to diagnosing periodontal disease below the gum line.
To Sleep or Not to Sleep Many families refuse needed dental care for their pet because anesthesia is required, and anesthesia can be a scary thing to think about. We understand this, too. Even in human medicine, there is always a tiny element of risk inherent in any procedure, including anesthesia. We strive to minimize these risks in every way possible and are always happy to discuss any concerns families have and to offer options that will further eliminate risks
Here is a description of an average pet’s dental cleaning: First, we look! With the pet asleep, the veterinarian is able to see areas that can’t be accessed with the pet awake, like the insides of the teeth and cheeks, under the tongue, the tonsils, and the back of the throat.
Then, using an ultrasonic instrument with a rinsing feature, tartar (calculus) is removed above and below the gum line, rough tooth surfaces are smoothed, dead gum tissue is removed, irrigation is performed under the gum line, fluoride may be applied, and teeth are polished with an air-pressure driven polisher. Even the best-behaved pet with the least diseased mouth is unable to allow a procedure this extensive without anesthesia.
Do not be fooled by anyone who claims to be able to clean your pet’s teeth without anesthesia.
Finally, a chart will be created, findings recorded, and decisions made: A cleaning and polish only? Or are there some areas that need further attention?
Some pets do have problem areas that need further care. This is the point at which your veterinarian will talk about the dental issues your dog or cat may be facing and discuss a treatment plan, which may involve dental sealants or extractions.
How often is often enough? The true answer is “It Depends”.
How often your pet needs regular oral exams and cleanings also depends on:
- The pet’s age. As pet’s get older more material accumulates on the tooth surfaces.
- The pet’s size. Larger breeds of dogs often have fewer dental problems than smaller breeds.
- The pet’s breed. Cats of Persian heritage often have more dental problems that cats of other breeds. Brachiocephalic dogs (those with short, stubby noses like pugs) and dogs with long haired faces tend to have more greater accumulations of calculus
- The home care you provide. Do you brush your pet’s teeth? Offer them good-quality food, chew toys and treats?The Food Connection: It used to be believed that pets should be fed dry food because chewing dry food would scrape material from the teeth. It was also believed that soft food was stickier than dry food and so would stick more aggressively to teeth. Nothing could be further from the truth.Does food make any difference at all? Yes, indeed, just not the difference we used to think. Most dry pet foods are surprisingly high in starch, even the ones advertised as “High Protein”. Generally speaking, the greater the starch content of the food, the more the normal acid balance of the mouth is altered and the more “bad” bacteria are allowed to grow. The better the quality of a pet’s food, the better the pet’s immune system will be able to do its job and the more normal the pet’s saliva will be.Recommended Related to DogsEye Care for Dogs Man’s best friend could use a good eyeballing once in awhile-believe us, your dog won’t take it personally! In fact, giving him regular home eye exams will help keep you alert to any tearing, cloudiness or inflammation that may indicate a health problem. Check out the following ways to help keep your dog’s vision sharp-and that twinkle in his eyes.
- Doing Your Part: The more you do to help your pet’s oral health, the less your veterinarian has to do. The less you want to do or are able to do, the more we can help.
- Read the Eye Care for Dogs article > >
- In reality, just like with people, the factors that contribute to tartar formation are much more about the individual. Things like the mineral content of one’s saliva, the shape of the face, teeth and lips, the unique combination of oral bacteria. Right, one individuals “normal” bacteria might be different from someone else’s.
- Brushing your pet’s teeth daily is one of the best things you can do. With our (delicious!) malt-, poultry- or seafood-flavored toothpaste, a pet-appropriate toothbrush, and a bit of patience, 8 out of 10 pets (cats and senior pets included) will ultimately allow you to brush their teeth.
- Feed your pet the best quality food you feel you can afford.
- Let your pet enjoy daily chew time with pet-safe toys. It is true, not everything your pet chews will keep their teeth clean, and not everything is good for them to chew. Avoid hard treats, say the experts, like cow or pig hooves, nylon bones, unbendable rawhide, and sheep or cow bones (raw or cooked) — all of which can fracture or break your pet’s teeth. Also steer clear of fuzzy tennis balls – the fuzz abrasively wears down a dog’s teeth as the dog chews.
Oral rinses and gels may also help decrease plaque. Check out the photos and links to information about some of the products we stock, and use for our own pets.