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The Importance of Dental Health in Your Pets

by Dr. Dana Koch published February 23, 2016.  Previously published by PetCoach.

Periodontal disease is the most common clinical condition occurring in adult dogs and cats. Bad breath is the first indication that your pet may have dental disease. Pet owners are becoming more conscious of the role bad dental disease can play in the overall health of their animals. Bacteria from the mouth can enter the bloodstream and then are carried around the body. Studies in dogs have shown that periodontal disease is associated with microscopic changes in the heart, liver, and kidneys. Without proper treatment, such as a dental cleaning and consistent brushing there can be damaging effects including tooth root abscesses, severe gum inflammation, tooth decay, fractures of the jaw due to bone weakening, and the development of a hole (‘fistula’) from the oral cavity into the nasal passages causing nasal discharge. Here are some ways that you can help to prevent or treat your pet from having dental related health concerns:

1. Veterinary Examination – If you are concerned about the current state of your pet’s mouth then having a veterinarian evaluate for dental disease is a first important step. Your veterinarian will evaluate for the amount of tartar, plaque, and gingivitis. Plaque is caused by a buildup of bacteria in the mouth and this hardens to form tartar. Both tartar and plaque can continue to grow in the mouth and cause issues both above and below the visible gum line. In addition, your veterinarian will check for any evidence of tooth fractures or root abscesses.
2. Dental Cleaning – A thorough dental cleaning needs to be performed under anesthesia. Dental radiographs are performed to evaluate for any underlying dental issues that cannot be detected on physical examination. The largest part of the tooth is generally the root in dogs and cats and it exists below the gum line. This is why x-rays help veterinarians detect all the problems, including tooth root abscess and lesions, which are not visible on routine examination. Unhealthy or damaged teeth can be removed if needed and can alleviate pain your pet may have been experiencing. Many pet owners worry about anesthesia, but a healthy animal with proper sedation protocols generally do really well with anesthesia. Bloodwork can be performed prior to the procedure to evaluate internal organ function and ensure your pet’s liver and kidneys are function properly to handle the anesthesia.
3. Daily brushing – Brushing your pet’s teeth at home is one of the most important steps you can take in preventing periodontal disease. There are numerous dental hygiene kits on the market that include toothbrushes or finger brushes and various flavors of toothpaste. You can use one of these kits or even use your finger wrapped with a piece of gauze. If you have never brushed your pet’s teeth before start slow and be patient. Slowly introduce your pet to the idea of allowing you to brush in a safe manner and make it a positive experience with frequent praise and even rewards. Once your pet is comfortable with your brushing start with short brushing sessions then gradually increase the time. Angle the brush or your finger at a 45 degree angle toward the gum line. Move the brush in a circular motion with mild pressure (too much pressure can irritate and damage the gum tissue). You do not necessarily have to use toothpaste because it is the mechanical motion of the brushing that is essential for removal of plaque. If you’d prefer to use toothpaste because your pet enjoys the flavor then choose a dog or cat specific toothpaste. Avoid using human toothpaste because many of these products contains fluoride or xylitol which can be poisonous or result in stomach upset to your pet.
4. Additional oral health products – There are many other products on the market to supplement your brushing or for those pets that truly will not let pet owners safely brush their teeth. There are water additives that help prevent further tartar and plaque buildup on the surface of the teeth. These products, such as one called oratene, are added to fresh water daily are convenient to use. Another popular supplemental product for dental care are treats designed to reduce the amount of tartar and plaque. Make sure these treats are not too hard because these can lead to fractures of important chewing teeth and can be difficult for the gastrointestinal tract to breakdown during digestion. The veterinary oral health council has a list of approved dental treats on their website listed here: http://www.vohc.org/accepted_products.htm. The company Virbac also has a line of quality dental treats. The C.E.T.® Enzymatic Oral Hygiene Chews for Dogs combine a natural antiseptic plus an abrasive texture that functions to loosen tartar and lessen plaque buildup. Lastly, for those pets with a history of dental disease there are prescription diets designed to reduce the risk and development of periodontal disease. Hill’s brand food has a prescription t/d diet that boosts a special fiber matrix that helps reduce bacteria-laden plaque, tartar buildup and tooth stains.
Being proactive about your favorite canine or feline’s dental health is an important part of preventing disease. Make brushing a part of your daily routine and speak to your veterinarian about a dental cleaning if recommended. Also consider adding dental treats or water additives to your pet friendly supplies. A healthy mouth is healthy pet!

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