Greetings from your friendly neighborhood veterinarian! In this article I’d like to concentrate on the importance of oral health and hygiene in your pets. Over the past seven years as a practicing veterinarian I’ve had to remove at least hundreds, if not thousands, of teeth due to severe dental disease. Dental disease in dogs and cats is a very common problem and if left unchecked may lead to other severe problems.
Periodontal disease is by far the most common problem I see in dog and cat mouths and affects the periodontal ligament that attaches teeth to the surrounding bone. This disease typically starts with an accumulation of calculus (tartar) along the gumline. This hard mineral-like material is brown in color and gives bacteria a place to hide. If not removed regularly, bacteria and calculus will continue to build and wedge themselves in between the gums and tooth affecting the periodontal ligament. In the advanced stages there will be bone loss and loosening of the periodontal ligament. At this point, the tooth is likely not salvageable and must be removed to stop the disease process in the mouth.
One cat specific problem is called chronic feline gingivostomatitis. This is long standing inflammation or redness of the mouth mainly surrounding all teeth. This, you can imagine, is quite painful and can result in your cat hypersalivating and not eating. As this disease process progresses, tooth resorption can occur, meaning the crown and/or roots are eaten away. For reasons we don’t quite understand, some cat’s immune system attacks their own teeth and the disease progresses unless all teeth are extracted. There are some cases that I’ve tried to manage with antibiotics and pain medication, but the problem usually returns.
So, what can we do to keep our pets’ mouths healthy? BRUSHING! Yes, I said it. Unfortunately, there are not many things that replace the benefits of brushing teeth. The American Veterinary Dental College (www.avdc.org) recommends daily teeth brushing ideally or I say three days a week at a minimum. I recommend a soft bristle brush or finger-tip brush and pet formulated toothpaste (not human toothpaste). There are multiple flavors of tooth paste out there and hopefully one that will tempt your pet. Most effort should be concentrated on the outside portions of the teeth, so you don’t have to open your pets mouth wide open, just lift lips. The tongue does a pretty good job keeping the inside portions of the teeth clean.
OK, what do you do if you absolutely can’t brush? There are plenty of other oral hygiene products out there that can help reduce the bacterial load in the mouth and brown mineral on the teeth. These can range from dental chews to water additives to oral gels to bones, hides or other chew toys. Please consult with your veterinarian to determine the best option for you and your pet. Please avoid poultry bones as these can splinter and get stuck in the gastrointestinal tract. If your dog loves to chew bones, I recommend the bigger the better, so small pieces don’t fracture off and cause problems.
If oral hygiene products are not possible or not working, please schedule a professional dental cleaning with your local veterinarian. At that time your veterinarian will carefully evaluate all teeth for any evidence of disease and formulate the best treatment plan, which may mean tooth extraction. Please consult with your veterinarian to ensure your pet is healthy enough for this procedure and what risks may be associated. It’s generally recommended that your pet have a comprehensive oral health assessment and treatment annually, but please consult with your veterinarian to determine the best frequency. If you have any questions regarding your pet’s health, please don’t hesitate to call us at Page Animal Hospital, (928) 645-2816.
Bret the Vet