Proper dental care can detect dental disease that not only affects the mouth, but can also lead to more serious health problems such as heart, lung, and kidney disease. Good dental hygiene is just as important for pets as it is for humans. It is one of the most overlooked areas of pet health. Studies by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) reveal that nearly two-thirds of pet owners do not provide the dental care recommended by veterinarians.
Periodontal disease is an infection of the tissue surrounding the teeth that take hold in progressive stages.
How it starts and progresses
Periodontal disease starts as a bacterial film called plaque. The bacteria attach to the teeth. When the bacteria die, they can be calcified by calcium in saliva. This forms a hard, rough substance called tartar or calculus, which allows more plaque to accumulate. Initially, plaque is soft and brushing or chewing hard food and toys can dislodge it.
If left to spread, plaque can lead to gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums, causing them to become red and swollen and to bleed easily. As plaque and calculus develop below the gum line, professional cleaning will be needed to help manage it. If the plaque and tartar buildup continues unchecked, the infection can form around the root of the tooth.
In the final stages of periodontal disease, the tissues surrounding the tooth are destroyed, the bony socket holding the tooth in 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 start with proper dental care.
Oral examinations: AAHA recommends that veterinarians evaluate puppies and kittens for problems related to deciduous (baby) teeth, missing teeth, extra teeth, swelling, and oral development. As pets age, your veterinarian will examine your pet for developmental anomalies, accumulation of plaque and tartar, periodontal disease, and oral tumours. The veterinarian can perform a basic oral examination while pets are awake. However, short-lasting anaesthetic is required for a complete examination.
Dental cleanings: Guidelines recommend regular examinations and dental cleanings under general anaesthesia with full intubation for all adult dogs and cats. These cleanings should take place annually starting at one year for cats and small-breed dogs, and at two years of age for larger-breed dogs.
Home dental care: Pet owners also play an important role in their animals’ oral health. Regular teeth brushing at home coupled with regular dental check-ups can help your pet live a longer, healthier life.
Four Easy Steps for your Cat & Dog’s Home Dental Care:
- Get comfortable: Set expectations that getting used to brushing might take several sessions, so reward your pet through the training process and remember to keep it positive and be patient. Practice lifting their lip to see their teeth and reward with praise.
- Try toothpaste: You can wrap your index finger in gauze or use a finger toothbrush. After your pet is comfortable, lift her lip and gently rub the pet toothpaste over her teeth and gums.
- Toothbrush time: Introduce the toothbrush provided by your veterinarian. If desired, place a small amount of pet toothpaste on the brush and gently start brushing. Hint: Pet toothpaste, chicken broth and tuna juice can make it more acceptable for your cat.
- Brushing success: Brush teeth and gums gently and finish with bottom front teeth. Focus on the outside of the teeth — the surface facing the cheek is most prone to plaque and tartar buildup. When finished, offer her praise and plenty of love. Let your pet know what a great pet she is and make brushing a positive experience.
And even though at Coré Smith Dentistry in Claremont, Cape Town we don’t see any pets in the dental chair, this blog is for the love of pets as much as it is for the love of teeth.