Proper dental care for your pet is critical to their health and ensures that they lead a happy, active life. Without dental attention, plaque builds up on the teeth and turns into tartar, or calculus. These areas grow bacteria and eat away at the teeth and gums. As a result, animals suffer from halitosis, periodontal disease, oral pain and tooth loss. The American Veterinary Dental Society reports that 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats show signs of oral disease by age three. Periodontal disease is the #1 diagnosed disease in animals and can lead to a host of other problems as infected mouths shed bacteria into an animal’s bloodstream. While the body is good at dealing with bacteria, it stresses the immune system and, in the longer term, can lead to heart, lung and kidney disease, liver problems, or removal of most of the teeth. Gum disease can be prevented through proper dental care.
What is Periodontal Disease? Periodontal disease is an infection of the tissue surrounding the teeth. Initially, it starts as a bacterial film called plaque that attaches to the teeth. When the bacteria die, they become calcified by calcium in saliva and form a hard substance called tartar or calculus. Without dental cleaning, plaque can lead to gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums causing them to bleed easily. In the final stages of periodontal disease, the gum tissue is destroyed, the bony tooth socket erodes, and the tooth becomes loose. This is a very painful process for your four-legged friend, but these problems can be averted before they even start.
How to Identify Dental Disease. Veterinarians can perform a basic oral examination on patients that are awake. However, a short-lasting anesthetic is required in order to provide a complete and thorough examination as well as dental cleanings. Signs indicating dental disease include the following:
- Halitosis (bad breath)
- Reluctance to chew or crying out when chewing
- Increased salivation
- Red or puffy gums
- Bleeding gums
- Tartar/Calculus (hard coating on teeth that is usually brown or yellow)
- Missing or loose teeth
Preventing Dental Disease in Pets: There are several things you can do to help keep your pet’s teeth in good shape. Bayside recommends regular oral examinations and dental cleanings, under general anesthesia, for all adult dogs and cats. AAHA recommends these procedures at least annually starting at one year of age for cats and small-breed dogs, and at two years of age for large-breed dogs. The following are steps pet owners can take to keep their pets healthy.
Brush their teeth. Use a “finger brush” or special toothbrush designed for use on dogs or cats. Never brush your pet’s teeth with human toothpaste because it can make them sick. Use special enzymatic toothpaste made for animals.
Use an oral rinse. Special rinses can be purchased that are sprayed on a pet’s teeth and help prevent dental disease.
Give your pet special dental food and treats. Studies show that hard kibbles are slightly better at keeping plaque from accumulating on teeth. There are also a variety of specially formulated diets and treats for cats and dogs that help prevent dental disease. Avoid real bones for dogs because they not only can they lead to gastrointestinal upset, but also they can cause tooth fractures.
Professional dental cleaning. Professional dental cleaning by your veterinarian is the most effective way to clean your pet’s teeth and ensure that they remain healthy. During the procedure, your pet’s teeth and gums will be examined closely for problems, teeth will then be scaled and polished, and problem teeth will be extracted. Because of the extensive nature of the procedure, it requires general anesthesia.
Pets can live longer, healthier lives if oral health care is managed and maintained throughout their lives. Talk to Bayside about developing a dental care plan for your companion.